In response to the 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update, which revealed a troubling gap in access to justice in our state, the Equal Justice Coalition launched the Justice for All campaign to highlight the critical need, emphasize the vital importance of legal aid for low-income individuals and families, and convince legislators in Olympia to increase state funding for civil legal aid.
The EJC believes that the state should recommit to access to justice by nearly doubling the number of state-funded civil legal aid attorneys, expanding the level of volunteer attorney involvement in the delivery of essential civil legal aid services, and building awareness of legal aid services in low-income communities.
These steps are crucial for Washington to reach “minimum access,” defined nationally as one legal aid attorney for every 5,000 low-income residents. Based on 2016 population and demographic data, Washington needs 240 full-time equivalent legal aid attorneys to reach this standard. In 2016, we had 130. But thanks to the advocacy of the civil legal aid community, real progress continues to be made.
In 2017 the Legislature committed to a Civil Justice Reinvestment Plan (CJRP) to begin to address the crisis and reach minimum access. The 2019 legislative session resulted in major gains — increasing funding for the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) by more than $7 million over the biennium. The increase includes:
– 20 new civil legal aid attorney positions around the state, building on the previous session’s investment and bringing Washington to within 45 attorneys of minimum access
– Compensation equity for pro bono attorney programs to retain vital staff and increase service capacity
– Stabilization funding to protect previous gains and maintain client service at the Northwest Justice Project
OCLA’s full budget analysis includes more details on the funding and implementation in 2019-2021.
The Justice for All campaign received significant media attention around the state, including the articles and editorials below:
Skagit Valley Herald: Study Finds Few Low-Income Washington Residents Get Civil Legal Aid
The Spokesman-Review: Study: Most Poor Washingtonians Don’t Get Legal Help They Need
Wenatchee World: Equal Justice is Still Our Promise
The Olympian: There’s Truly Big Need for Civil Legal Aid
Tacoma News Tribune: Attorneys Hope to Ease Burden on Poor of Legal Needs
Seattle Times: ‘Justice For All’ Threatened by Inaction in Olympia
The Columbian: Low-Income Residents Deserve Access to Civil Legal Aid (by State Sen. Ann Rivers)
North Kitsap Herald: Legal Needs of Many Are Not Met
Tacoma News Tribune: Justice Shouldn’t Be Denied for Low-Income Citizens (by State Rep. Christine Kilduff)
The Olympian: Legal Aid is Big Help for Survivors of Domestic Violence
Kitsap Sun: Access to Legal Aid Must Be Funded (by State Rep. Drew MacEwen)
Spokane Journal of Business: Bill Hyslop: Ensuring Accessibility
South Seattle Emerald: The Justice Gap: The Case for Civil Legal Aid (by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith)