Thursday, September 23, 2010

Civil courts and the poor

Central Dallas Ministries offers free and sliding scale legal services to low-income individuals and families in our Legal Action Works Center (commonly known as "The LAW Center").  Our four full-time attorneys work through 25-300 cases annually.  Over 80% of the cases we take involve family law matters.  Much of what we do relates to protecting very vulnerable women and children.  Click on link to the LAW Center to watch video on our legal work. 

Most people don't think about the fact that poor folks have very little access to legal counsel on civil matters.  I was reminded of the vital nature of this part of what we do at CDM by this note from the University of North Carolina Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and the UNC Pro Bono Program regarding a conversation they offered the public:

Poor People's Justice: Denying Access in Civil Cases

It is widely estimated that 80% of the legal needs of the poor people in the U.S. go unmet. Unlike criminal cases, where poor defendants are appointed an attorney, there is no constitutional right to counsel in civil cases. The choices for someone facing the legal system without representation are bleak and few: represent oneself without legal expertise, or forgo legal claims entirely, sometimes with dire consequences.

I'm grateful for our LAW Center and its important work.  Ironically, it is one of our initiatives that is very hard to fund annually, but its impact is enormous in the lives of those we represent.

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