Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 6
FROM OUR PRESIDENT
Clients You May Never Get
AND THOSE YOU
CAN HELP NOW
awyers are, in the main, a self-confident lot. We are certain of the indispensability of our skills
and the reasonableness of our fees. Studies suggest, however, that such certitude is not shared
by many individuals who might benefit from an attorney's help but don't hire one.
As many as half of American households are experiencing at least one significant "civil justice
situation"- a problem with civil legal dimensions - at any given time.1 In a recent survey of adults
in a mid-size U.S. city, two-thirds (66 percent) reported that within the prior 18 months, they had
experienced a civil justice situation involving such issues as employment, wages, consumer debts,
government benefits, or housing.2
Nearly half (46 percent), however, used "self-help" to address their situation. Only 22 percent sought
assistance from any third party, including a lawyer. Cost was a modest barrier to seeking assistance,
but respondents' most common explanation was that they did not see the need: They "frequently
do not think of these situations as legal, nor do they think of courts or of attorneys as always appropriate providers of remedy."3
This has been called the "latent legal market - that is, a market for legal services that is currently
untapped."4 But the self-help instinct of many consumers may mean they will never become
lawyers' clients. The explosive growth of websites with fill-in-the-blank legal forms hints at the
challenge of persuading "do-it-yourselfers" of the advantages of a conventional lawyer-client
1 Rebecca L. Sandefur, What We Know and Need to Know
About the Legal Needs of the Public, 67 S.C. L. Rev. 443, 445
2 Rebecca L. Sandefur, Accessing Justice in the
Contemporary USA: Findings From the Community Needs
and Services Study, American Bar Foundation (Aug. 2014),
3 Id. at 16.
4 ABA Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United
States at 14 (Aug. 2016).
5 The Community Listening Project Report at 9.
To make a year-end donation to
the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, visit
dcbar.org/pro-bono and click on
Photo: Patrice Gilbert Photography
* DECEMBER 2017
For those in poverty with legal problems, however, self-help remedies are less volitional or
accessible. Last year, a survey of low-income D.C. residents by the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services
Providers found that 72 percent of respondents had not sought out a lawyer to help with a recent
legal problem. Of those that tried and failed, most said cost kept them from finding counsel. The
perception of cost may alone be an impediment: 8 out of 10 respondents agreed that "lawyers are
not affordable for people with low incomes." 5
The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, the largest civil pro bono legal services provider in the District of
Columbia, works hard to eliminate the cost barrier. We served nearly 17,000 D.C. residents this fiscal
year, with a staff of 19 employees and more than 1,500 volunteers. I urge you to make a year-end
contribution to the Pro Bono Center. No D.C. Bar dues support the Center, so voluntary contributions from members like you and me are vital to its continued service to our low-income neighbors.
Your support will help our award-winning clinics and programs provide access to lawyers' services
for people living in poverty.