BY CANDELARIA MURILLO, THOMAS VERTETIS, and MICHELLE MOERSFELDER
The Legal Foundation of Washington (LFW)11 https://legalfoundation.org/the-campaign-for-equal-justice/law-firm-champions/, founded at the direction of the Washington Supreme Court in 1984, funds civil legal aid for more than 20,000 individuals and families in need of legal services every year. The annual Campaign for Equal Justice and the Endowment for Equal Justice raise funds to support more than 40 legal aid programs such as Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Columbia Legal Services, TeamChild, Unemployment Law Project, King County Bar Pro Bono Services, TacomaProBono, and more. As members of the legal community in Washington state, we are asking you to join us in supporting critical legal aid programs.
During the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of families in need of civil legal aid, and an exponential increase in reports of eviction and domestic violence. Tens of thousands of Washington families need the representation and relief that only civil legal aid can provide. So we are asking you for your support again this year.
Here’s why the LFW needs your support:
- Legal aid is a lifeline in a time of crisis. Solving legal problems provides immediate and long-lasting relief for individuals, families, and society—especially as civil legal issues like eviction, domestic violence, and denial of health, unemployment, and social security benefits increase due to the pandemic.
- The numbers are staggering. Each year, approximately 1 million people in Washington state need legal aid they cannot afford. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, only one in four low-income people receive the help they need.
- It’s not justice if it’s not equal. Support for legal aid is critical for closing the justice gap and advancing equal access to justice—particularly for communities of color disproportionately impacted by civil legal issues and most harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Supporting civil legal aid is part of being a member of our profession. When each lawyer helps out, we expand access to the legal system for members of our community who are not able to retain a lawyer. As lawyers, we see first-hand the huge positive impact legal aid programs make in our community. It’s our job to help these programs succeed.
- If you are able, please donate at: https://legalfoundation.org/givenow.
As a community of legal professionals, we should set the example for supporting worthwhile programs that advance justice and equal access to the courts for everyone in our community. Supporting access to the justice system is part of who we are—it goes to the core of what our profession stands for.
Legal aid programs help the people most harmed by COVID-19 protect their health, employment, housing, and other basic rights needed for stability. The Unemployment Law Project (ULP)22 https://unemploymentlawproject.org/, one of the groups we fund, experienced unprecedented demand during this pandemic. Here’s how legal aid helped poet and writer Danny Sherrard after he was laid off from his restaurant job during the COVID-19 shutdown:
We were told to apply for unemployment after being laid off, and from March until October I didn’t receive anything and rent was piling up. I was getting anxiety attacks. I found out about the Unemployment Law Project the week of my hearing and started working with them. My attorney gave me a lot of hope—which was the most important thing I had lost. We lost the hearing in October, which was really devastating, but ULP stayed on my team and had my back every single time. They were able to secure pandemic unemployment insurance for me and all my back rent was paid. If not for this legal help, I would have given up on ESD and thought my state had given up on me. But they didn’t, and now it feels like the dawn has broken.
Thank you for joining us to support civil legal aid and to make a difference for those who need our help. Legal aid is a powerful tool in breaking the cycles of poverty that exist in Washington and across the nation.
A SPECIAL NOTE > Thank you to those of you who support civil legal aid. If you joined LFW last month at the 36th Annual Goldmark Award Luncheon or donated through our annual Law Firm Campaign for Equal Justice, you helped transform lives through legal services.