October 6, 2008

Access to Justice

It isn't very often in DC that an organization can release a report and see measurable steps toward the reversal of the problem in a matter of years. Yet, as we get ready for the Access to Justice Commission's report tomorrow to address the need for civil legal representation among low-income residents, it bears noting how much has been accomplished since the last report like this in 2003.

Published by the DC Bar Foundation, the 2003 report was entitled Civil Legal Services Delivery in the District of Columbia, and it outlined a litany of very disturbing trends here in DC. Only 10% of the legal needs of low-income DC residents were being met. Approximately 26,000 people were on the DCHA wait list for Section 8 housing, and 18,000 were waiting for public housing. Those are just some of the many striking numbers the DC Bar Foundation goes through in detail.

Spurred by the report, and the continuing efforts of The D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers, the Access to Justice Commission was created by the DC Court of Appeals in less than two years. After creation, the Commission was awarded 3.2 million dollars to provide incentives and original ideas to provide access to low-income residents. That money immediately went to the widely successful Attorney of the Day program in which lawyers from different non-profits (Bread for the City, The DC Legal Aid Society, and Neighborhood Legal Services Project) were assigned to the landlord-tenant court so they could provide same-day assistance to people who otherwise would have gone to court without a lawyer.

It's been five years since the last report and only three years since the inception of the Access to Justice Commission. The assessment set for release tomorrow will have some hard numbers on what has changed in that period of time, and what the next initiatives should be as we try to provide legal services in low-income areas.

The report will be released tomorrow at 6 p.m. at DLA Piper.

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