The annual King County Law Firm Campaign for Equal Justice is in full swing. Every year, law firms across our county step up and donate money to the Campaign. That money supports civil legal aid for low-income individuals and families in our county and across our state.
What we have achieved together through the leadership and generosity of these law firms is remarkable. Last year, 99 King County law firms gave a total of $535,000 to the Campaign for Equal Justice. Over the past five years, King County law firms have collectively given more than $2.6 million to the Campaign.
This money translates directly into critical legal help. Last year alone, the King County Bar Association Pro Bono Services program — a beneficiary of the Campaign — provided some form of legal assistance, e.g., short meetings to go over options to full representation and everything in between, to 10,000 low-income King County residents.
Statistics bear out that 1.25 million people in Washington earn less than 125 percent of the federal poverty limit.1 Seventy percent of low-income households face at least one legal problem a year,2 but on average they face 9.3 legal problems per year.3
While these statistics may be surprising, they make sense. For those without a safety net, one legal problem can quickly snowball into a host of others. A woman may lose her job when physical abuse interferes with her ability to go to work, making it difficult to pay rent and avoid eviction. Her children — facing instability and violence at home — may act out in school, leading to suspensions or expulsions, and difficulty accessing quality education. Likewise, it is not uncommon to see problems in health care, consumer/finance and employment cluster together.
And here is the stunning statistic: A whopping 76 percent of low-income households do not get help for their legal problems.4 Without question, law firms and the lawyers who practice in them need to increase their focus on enhancing access to justice.
Civil Legal Aid
Breaks Cycles of Poverty
Legal aid can help people in our community stay in their homes, keep their families together, get access to necessary health care and assistance, protect them from fraud, and ultimately build productive and stable lives. Intervening early (e.g., by protecting a domestic violence victim from abuse) can help avoid downstream issues like the loss of a job, eviction and other legal issues.
Not only does the money that we raise in the Campaign for Equal Justice help those in need, it also makes our communities stronger. Think of the Campaign as a community safety net. And those 99 law firms that contributed to the Campaign last year provided much to that safety net.
But the Current Civil
Legal Aid Demand Is Great
Each year, the Campaign for Equal Justice expands access to justice. But we are racing to keep up with the need, which continues to grow. At the King County Law Firm Campaign for Equal Justice kickoff this year, Rory O’Sullivan, the director of the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project, observed: “The Housing Justice Project is seeing more clients than we have ever seen before. Last year there were over 3,300 visits to the HJP. We’re hopeful that the [campaign] funding will go along with the needs.”
Where Does the Money Go?
Money that is raised from the Campaign goes to the Legal Foundation of Washington (LFW) along with contributions and donations from a variety of other sources. LFW, in turn, provides money to the King County Bar Association Pro Bono Services program, Columbia Legal Services, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Seattle Community Law Center, Solid Ground, TeamChild, Unemployment Law Project, and 16 volunteer attorney programs. These organizations provide civil legal aid directly and through pro bono attorneys to low-income individuals and families.
But What about IOLTA Funds?
Yes, interest from IOLTA funds does help to fund civil legal aid. But everyone knows that interest rates have been hovering around zero for a long time. The amount of pooled interest from IOLTA funds has dropped dramatically over the past eight years. Statewide the IOLTA funds raised in 2007 exceeded $9 million; since 2008 the amount has hovered at or below $2 million.
Unfortunately, the economic crisis that precipitated the drop in IOLTA funds also drove more people into poverty and created a significant increase in the need for civil legal aid.
So How Can You Help?
Glad you asked! This year, we are aiming to grow the King County Law Firm Campaign for Equal Justice — asking 105 law firms to give a total of $565,000. Some generous law firms have already made a pledge and we thank them (our supporters are listed on the Campaign for Equal Justice website). Your firm has likely been asked to contribute to the Campaign.
If you support what the Campaign does, please talk to your law firm management and partners. Let them know that the Campaign is important to you, your firm and the community in which we all live. Ask to have a representative from the King County Bar Association Pro Bono Services program or the Campaign speak to your law firm (or give a free CLE on civil legal needs in Washington and earn one hour of ethics credit).
Encourage your law firm to include a donation to the Campaign as part of its annual budget. Join other leaders in the profession by becoming a Champion of Justice and contributing $300/attorney or $25,000 or more each year. If you need a pledge form, please contact Natalia Fior at email@example.com or Scott Pinkston at ScottP@kcba.org.
We thank you for all that you have done to support civil legal aid in our county. And we thank you in advance for the generous contributions you and your law firms are making this fall to the Campaign for Equal Justice. Your donations bridge the justice gap and help real people in our community.
Kathleen Petrich is the president of the King County Bar Foundation, Rima Alaily is the president of the Legal Foundation of Washington Campaign for Equal Justice, and Kate Battuello is the president of the King County Bar Association.
For more information about the King County Bar Association Pro Bono Services programs, go to: http://www.kcba.org/pbs/.
For more information about the Campaign for Equal Justice, go to: https://legalfoundation.org/the-campaign-for-equal-justice/.
For more information about King County Bar Foundation, go to: http://www.kcbf.org.
1 October 2015, “Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update” — www.ocla.wa.gov/reports.
3 Id. In 2014, the average number of legal problems per household was 9.3, which is nearly a threefold jump from 2003.