Legislation and Lobbying

Law deans and GCs join campaign to save Legal Services Corp. funding

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Lady justice illustration.

The American Bar Association’s call to save the Legal Services Corp. was echoed by the general counsel from 185 companies in a letter to Congress on Tuesday, and by the deans of 166 law schools last week.

The LSC’s funding was marked for elimination in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. The nonprofit organization is the largest provider of civil legal aid services in the country, serving 1.9 million people last year. The ABA launched the #LegalAidDefender social media campaign earlier this month to urge Congress not to let the LSC be destroyed.

In their letter (PDF) to Congress, the general counsel of major companies such as Hewlett Packard, FedEx, Comcast, Walt Disney Company, General Electric, General Motors, JP Morgan Chase, Starbucks, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon all advocated not only for the LSC to be saved, but for its funding to be set at $450 million for fiscal year 2018. The LSC received $385 million in 2016; $450 million would set its funding equal to its FY2010 level, adjusted for inflation, the letter argued.

“As the cornerstone of equal justice in America, LSC creates a level playing field for the many lower and moderate-income families who cannot afford a lawyer,” the GCs wrote. “By upholding the fundamental American promise of liberty and justice for all, the minimal investment in LSC generates a significant positive return for business and for the health of individuals and communities across the nation. … Civil legal issues can have devastating, life-altering consequences for people who are forced to face the justice system alone.”

Eric Steiner, the general counsel for ABA Insurance Services, was a signatory to the Tuesday letter.

Even before Trump’s budget proposal had been announced, rumors about cuts to LSC funding led to the heads of more than 150 U.S. law firms writing to the administration to urge that the LSC be fully funded. “The pro bono activity facilitated by LSC funding is exactly the kind of public-private partnership the government should encourage, not eliminate,” the law firm heads wrote.

Last week, the deans of 166 law schools also asked Congress to support funding the LSC. Among the signatories of their letter (PDF) was constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, a columnist for the ABA Journal and dean of UC Irvine School of Law. Chemerinsky also wrote an opinion piece for the Orange County Register.

“The legal system is complex, and having a lawyer often can make all of the difference in a person’s life,” Chemerinsky wrote in the newspaper. “For over 40 years, this has been acknowledged by both Democratic and Republican presidents and by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Access to the courts and to justice should not depend on income, and it should not be a partisan issue.”

“Support for the Legal Services Corp. is bipartisan because guaranteeing representation to all is not a political issue, but an issue of fairness,” ABA President Linda Klein told the ABA Journal earlier in March. “It benefits every congressional district and returns far more on every dollar spent than it costs.”

In their Tuesday letter, the GCs framed the issue of LSC funding as vital for American infrastructure.

“While we understand that within this fiscal environment difficult decisions about spending must be made, we believe that access to justice is not an expendable luxury but an indispensable manifestation of our country’s most fundamental values,” they wrote. “Just as investing in America’s roads and bridges are vital to our transportation infrastructure, LSC is a vital part of the infrastructure that undergirds our justice system, ensuring that fair treatment is not dependent on a person’s ability to pay for it.”

Hat tips: Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.), @ABAGrassroots

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