GR Bar Association issues statement on Legal Services Corp. funding

The proposed budget presented by President Donald J. Trump for the upcoming fiscal year would entirely eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”), which plays a central role in supporting worthy legal-services providers like Legal Aid of Western Michigan. The Grand Rapids Bar Association strenuously opposes the elimination of the LSC, which is an essential part of our nation's legal fabric. Simply put, the legal-aid system in this country cannot survive without the federal financial support it has received from the LSC for more than four decades.

 Congress created the LSC in 1974 with broad, bipartisan support as well as the blessing of President Richard M. Nixon. Since then, the LSC has distributed congressional appropriated funds on an annual basis so that low-income litigants can seek justice that would otherwise be beyond their financial reach. The LSC provides federal grants to 135 independent legal-services programs across the United States, including Legal Aid of Western Michigan. The LSC’s funding level in the current fiscal year- which is less than $400 million - constitutes a tiny fraction of all federal spending, yet the legal-assistance organizations stretch those limited dollars in exemplary fashion to serve a large portion of the impoverished population in our country.

 Here in West Michigan , the legal services provided by Legal Aid of Western Michigan in the areas of divorce assistance and housing litigation streamline court proceedings, enabling judges to quickly and efficiently dispense justice in matters that would be hopelessly complicated if litigants had to represent themselves in court hearings. Beyond that, Legal Aid of Western Michigan serves an essential screening function by meeting with potential clients and directing them to the proper dispute-resolution system, advising them that they have no rights to vindicate, or taking on their representation if litigation is appropriate .

 If funding for the LSC is eliminated, the impact upon Legal Aid of Western Michigan will be catastrophic. Legal Aid of Western Michigan will lose nearly half of its overall funding, thereby reducing the organization to a mere shell of itself. The legal community - and, indeed, the broader community in 17 counties in West Michigan - cannot absorb such a loss. The ultimate decision to fund the LSC has been placed by our Constitution in the hands of Congress, and the Grand Rapids Bar Association will do everything in its power to convince the members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to renew LSC funding at its current level. Our local community depends upon a fully funded and fully engaged legal-services provider in West Michigan. We urge Congress to adopt a budget that reflects and protects that need.

Since 1902, the Grand Rapids Bar Association and Justice Foundation of West Michigan Trust have been known for a high level of professionalism and civility. The GRBA and JFWMT provide a climate in which lawyers and judges work together to improve the delivery of legal service, address challenges, promote specialization, increase the number of lawyers, and encourage and welcome women and minority lawyers into the practice.