NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Legal Aid For The Poor

October 1, 1995

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) dispenses $400 million in federal funds annually to more than 300 poverty law groups staffed by attorneys, but most legal aid for the poor is actually provided by private charity. Thus, the LSC is not necessary to help the poor with genuine legal needs.

  • Surveys of attorneys over the past five years indicate that about 525,000 perform at least some pro bono (unpaid) work annually, totalling 25 million hours and worth $3.4 billion.
  • This is five times the number of hours worked annually by the 4,749 full-time staff attorneys of the 284 field offices operated by LSC grantees.
  • The majority of legal aid to the poor is donated by individual attorneys, but there are also between 800 and 900 programs that coordinate private attorney aid or employ staff attorneys that receive no unding from the LSC.

The LSC grantees also receive $240 million annually from other sources. Many of them existed before the federal government began funding legal services for the poor in 1965, supported by local lawyers, bar associations, governments and such charities as the United Way.

A 1979 report mandated by Congress concluded that using a paid staff of attorneys, as do most LSC grantees, is less cost-efficient than pro bono programs.

Source: David Wilkerson, "Private Alternatives to the Legal Services Corporation," Alternatives in Philanthropy, October 1995, Capital Research Center, 727 15th Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20004, (202) 393-2600.

 

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