We most often hear about it described as wealth inequality or the 1 percent versus the 99 percent — the vast gap between rich and poor. But in the legal world, we sometimes call it the justice gap. A similarly titled report found that nearly 86 percent of American citizens’ problems go unaddressed even though a firm legal basis can help resolve them. Why is this the case? Because those American citizens are poor.
The low-income sector is diverse in its demographics: it includes vets, the disabled, senior citizens, single mothers and fathers, etc.
They all have different legal worries they would like to see resolved. Some are experiencing trouble finding adequate housing for their families. Others are the victims of domestic violence. Many simply require financial help from their ex-spouses or even the government. They require child support, disability benefits, or veterans’ benefits to live in relative comfort.
Pro bono attorneys work to address this “Justice Gap.” Legal organizations fight to ensure that there are incentives available for lawyers who work pro bono, but there still aren’t enough — and this problem will likely continue in the foreseeable future due to the still-growing inequality gap.
One organization is called the Pro Bono Network (or PBN). The PBN has been up and running since 2011, and the number of lawyers at its disposal is still growing.
Another big obstacle in the way of legal resolution for low-income Americans are those lawyers who want to be a part of the solution, but themselves lack the resources to be of any real help. These attorneys are usually on their own, practicing law in small towns without the backing of a big firm. They have options to provide services online of course, but this is hardly the ideal way to go about it.
For those lawyers who are interested in making a difference with PBN and live in the Cook or DuPage counties of Illinois, you can check in with Executive Director Linda Rio to find out when the next training or information seminar is scheduled to take place.
Haven’t made up your mind? Remember this: it isn’t just about whether or not someone has the money to hire a good lawyer. How the law falls on someone of low means is often decided by whether that person has a lawyer at all. Those who go without will almost always find themselves under the gavel, and often without any real reason — many are innocent of the crimes for which they have been charged, but they are convicted and sentenced all the same.
You can help!