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Research Report

Restricting Legal Services: How Congress Left the Poor With Only Half a Lawyer

  • David S. Udell
Published: January 1, 2000

The second installment of the Center ‘s Access to Justice Series, Restricting Legal Services, paints a vivid picture of the legal and human consequences of restrictions imposed on the Legal Services Corporation by the U.S. Congress in 1996.

Championed mostly by foes of legal services – many of whom would gladly end the use of federal funds to provide the poor with free civil legal representation – these restrictions force LSC lawyers to fight without some of the most critical tools for effective advocacy.

Litigation over the constitutionality of the restrictions is ongoing. Whatever the outcome, Restricting Legal Services demonstrates that the restrictions are poor public policy. Lawyers for the poor are unable to bring class actions, collect attorney’s fees, or engage in lobbying. Their clients are relegated to the bottom rung of a two-tier justice system and their needs often remain unmet. This article shows that when legal services attorneys are permitted to use these tools, however, they are often able to obtain justice for their clients in a highly efficient manner.

Legal services clients face great challenges, including financial struggles to stay afloat, and legal battles against opponents (e.g., landlords, employers, and
government agencies) with far greater resources.

The restrictions, unfortunately, make this tough fight simply unfair.