Did you know...Only one in five low-income people who experience a legal problem can get legal help from any source, no matter how urgent the issue? It ruins lives and costs the community money.
What is civil legal aid and why isn’t it being provided?
- Critical civil legal matters threaten the well-being of families, such as child snatches, domestic violence, divorce, and the loss of one’s home.
- The network for civil legal help has eroded to the crisis point, while critical needs have increased. State funding is half of what it was in 1996; other funding sources have dwindled. In York County, more than 50,000 people qualify for civil legal services, but only four full-time lawyers are employed to help them.
As a result of the Strategic Planning process, adopted at the annual luncheon meeting on December 10, 2012, two task forces were formed: 1) the YCBA Financial Task Force chaired by Judge Uhler and 2) the community-wide Legal Services Task Force chaired by Bob Woods, Executive Director of the United Way of York County.
The YCBA/YCBF initiated a county-wide Legal Services Task Force in September, 2012 to develop a plan to improve the delivery of civil legal services in York County and to increase funding and service delivery capacities. Sharon Browning, Esq. (Philadelphia) and Patrick Ball were engaged as the two facilitators.
During this time, Senator Greenleaf began to convene Senate Judiciary hearings on Civil Legal Representation of the Indigent: Have We Achieved Equal Access to Justice?
YCBF Board and Legal Services Task Force member Bob Pullo attended the May 7 hearing in Harrisburg and Victoria Connor attended the hearing in Philadelphia on May 23 to learn about the developing coalition and what is happening around the Commonwealth to address the “justice gap.” Momentum is growing. A Statewide coalition is forming including the PBA, Philadelphia and Allegheny Bars. The YCBA/YCBF report has been shared with the key members of this coalition.
After 10 months of meeting and work, the Task Force findings fell into three categories.
The Legal Community in York County:
- Strong history of collaboration between MidPenn Legal Services and the Bar.
- The pro bono program has begun to stagnate.
o Struggle to recruit new members of the Bar.
o Challenged to increase reported hours.
o Limited new programs launched.
- Unable to ignite a community-wide passion for access to justice for low income residents.
The Service Delivery Community in York County:
- Strong, comprehensive network of service providers.
- Feel disconnected from the legal services delivery system.
- Not sure of the resources that exist, but definitely see the need.
The Business Community in York County:
- Many in the business community are unaware of the depth and breadth of services that are available or needed.
- Past fundraising activities indicate a portion of the business community understands the need.
Based on these findings, the Task Force issued a series of recommendations for the Bar to undertake to improve access to justice for York’s underserved. At a joint board meeting on August 30, 2013, the boards of the York County Bar Association and the York County Bar Foundation voted unanimously to accept the 15 recommendations of the Task Force.
Locally, the report (70 pages - click here to download) includes the Task Force’s findings and recommendations and suggests steps for implementation by the Bar Association and Foundation, its grantees, the legal profession, county government and the wider business and service provider community.