How We Advocate

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. 

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