Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 15

FEATURE
May founded May Lightfoot PLLC in 2017 right in the community where
she lives after serving two years as D.C. councilmember for Ward 8. " It's
important that Black kids here see that not all law firms have to be on K
Street or downtown, " she says.
When it comes to access to legal services in the District of Columbia, it is a
tale of two cities depending on which side of the Anacostia River you live.
In Ward 8, the median household income is $39,473, compared to $91,414
for the entire city, according to D.C. Health Matters. The unemployment
rate is 18 percent compared to 7 percent for the city overall.
Opening her firm in Ward 8 means people come to May with all sorts
of legal problems, many of which are outside her practice areas. " I had
a single mother call this morning because she had a contractual issue, "
May says. " I explained to her that I'm a personal injury lawyer and that
I couldn't help with her dispute. But she pleaded that I help her because
she couldn't find a lawyer. "
The woman had paid $80,000 and signed a contract to purchase a
condo in Anacostia's Barry Farm neighborhood. Unbeknownst to her,
the seller owed the condo association more than $125,000 in liens for
unpaid utility bills, HOA fees, and mounting legal fees. For the buyer to
occupy the unit, the seller must first pay those fees; otherwise, the condo
would be auctioned. Unfortunately, because May is not a real estate or
contracts lawyer, she had to turn the woman away.
The story is illustrative of the huge access to counsel divide in a city with
approximately 28,000 attorneys - the highest concentration of lawyers
per capita in the country - and more than 30 legal services providers.
With most of the District's legal professionals located west of the
Anacostia River, finding an attorney in Ward 8 is a daunting task, but
finding one that clients can afford is almost insurmountable.
SO MANY LAWYERS, SO LITTLE HELP
Pre-pandemic, Wards 7 and 8 not only had the highest poverty rates
- 27 percent and 36 percent, respectively, compared to 17 percent
District-wide - but they also experienced higher rates of civil legal
problems, according to the D.C. Access to Justice Commission. " When
faced with legal issues threatening their stability, 75% to 97% of D.C.
residents appeared in Superior Court without a lawyer, " the commission
said in its call to mobilize the legal community to do more pro bono
work.
In finding an attorney, residents in these wards must overcome hurdles
such as transportation, access to technology, and affordability. The
woman who asked for May's help first brought her legal problem to DC
Refers, an online directory of pre-screened attorneys who offer their
services at discounted rates for clients who qualify. " My income is not
that high, but I'm not qualified for pro bono or low-income [legal]
service. I'm a little bit over the threshold, " she says in an interview with
Washington Lawyer. " Still, I can't afford legal services [at] $300 an hour or a
retainer costing between $3,000 or $5,000. "
Christina Jackson, deputy director of the Washington Council of Lawyers,
says outreach by the legal community in Wards 7 and 8 has improved
over the last decade, but " we do still recognize that those two wards in
particular are underserved in terms of services . . . and I do think we have
a long way to go to making . . . access to those legal services easy for
residents. "
Despite significant efforts by legal services providers to bridge the access
to justice gap, not everyone's legal needs in her neighborhood are being
met, May says. " So, for all of those folks who are not eligible for legal aid,
there is absolutely a legal desert here in Ward 8 because they have
nowhere else to go. "
In the national conversation around legal deserts, many associate the
problem with rural areas that might have one or two lawyers at most.
This is not accurate, says Lisa R. Pruitt, professor at the University of
California, Davis, School of Law and co-author of the 2018 Harvard Law
& Policy Review article " Legal Deserts: A Multi-State Perspective on Rural
Access to Justice. " Pruitt is credited for coining the term " legal deserts. "
In many urban areas, including those with a high concentration of lawyers,
access to counsel is not available to all. In Los Angeles, for example, there
are neighborhoods with no lawyers or just a few, says Pruitt, who previously
served on the California Commission on Access to Justice. " And the
lawyers that were present were not the kind of lawyers who could meet
the needs of [the neighborhood's] modest-means clients, " Pruitt says.
Employment law attorney Yaida Ford, who lives in Ward 8, says there's a
scarcity of lawyers who meet the community's specific needs.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021
* WASHINGTON LAWYER 15
Lance Curry

Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021

Letter to Members
From Our President
Calendar of Events
Practice Management
Toward Well-Being
Reforming Conservatorship: A Battle Over Best Interests
Legal Deserts: No-Man’s Land of Affordable Legal Help
The Unfinished Work of Equal Justice for All
Pro Bono Mentoring for High-Impact Help
The Afghanistan Fallout: Broken Promises & Processes
Taking the Stand
ABA Delegate’s Corner
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Disciplinary Summaries
Speaking of Ethics
The Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 4
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Letter to Members
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Toward Well-Being
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Reforming Conservatorship: A Battle Over Best Interests
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 11
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 12
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 13
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Legal Deserts: No-Man’s Land of Affordable Legal Help
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 15
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 16
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 17
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 18
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 19
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Unfinished Work of Equal Justice for All
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 21
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 22
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 23
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Pro Bono Mentoring for High-Impact Help
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 25
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 26
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 27
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Afghanistan Fallout: Broken Promises & Processes
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 29
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 30
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 31
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 33
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - ABA Delegate’s Corner
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 37
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 39
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 40
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 41
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 43
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 46
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 47
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 49
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 50
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 51
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 52
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 53
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - 55
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2021 - Cover4
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