The Justice Gap
The working poor in the USA—those within 200%-400% of federal poverty level—are on their own when they seek access to justice. They are ineligible for free legal aid and unable to afford private counsel. In Washington, DC, over 100,000 residents fall within this range of income and 9 out of 10 of those residents are forced to represent themselves pro se in legal proceedings where they can be at risk of losing custody of their children, being evicted from their home, or being deported from this country.
Nationwide Civil Legal Case Services by Problem Category, 2016
Source: Legal Services Corporation. 2017. The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans. Prepared by NORC at the University of Chicago for Legal Services Corporation. Washington, DC.
Recognizing the need for accessible legal assistance for residents of the District of Columbia, Georgetown University Law Center, Arent Fox LLP, and DLA Piper LLP joined together to create the DC Affordable Law Firm (“DCALF”) in 2015. DCALF, a charitable non-profit, charges modest fees consistent with a client’s ability to pay. Given the tremendous unmet legal needs of the working poor, it is not surprising that in the brief time since it was created, DCALF has more legal work than it can handle.
Schooled by a custom-designed 12-week training program, DCALF’s lawyers are immediately prepared to provide effective representation to their clients. Clients of DCALF finally have advocates fighting for their rights—they no longer have to contend with legal issues and opposing counsel on their own.
DCALF has quickly demonstrated that its groundbreaking concept works and is a model that should be replicated nationally. There are millions of modest-income people that need but cannot afford a lawyer to handle their critical needs. The DCALF model, if replicated, can ultimately expand access to civil justice for this population in cities and towns across the USA. Broadening DCALF’s leadership base will help DCALF achieve this goal.
The DC Affordable Law Firm is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide high quality, affordable legal services to DC Residents with unmet legal needs who do not qualify for free legal aid and are unable to pay prevailing legal rates.