Funding Legal Aid Makes Our Communities Stronger

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The Legal Foundation of Washington (LFW)11, 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:

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, 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.

About the Authors
About the Authors

Candelaria Murillo is the president of the Legal Foundation of Washington and a partner at Anderson Law in the Tri-Cities. She was born and raised in Sunnyside and graduated from Gonzaga University in 2001 with a major in political science and from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2004. Murillo started her career at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle and moved to the Tri-Cities in 2005 to work for Columbia Legal Services, where she has been a staff attorney for over a decade. She has a rich legal history in serving communities who face injustice and poverty.

Thomas Vertetis is the president of the Campaign for Equal Justice. As the first in his family to attend college, Vertetis was inspired to attend law school based on the encouragement of his father. It was the clearest path to try and make a big difference in helping others. If waking up at 3 a.m. and emailing colleagues to share a new legal strategy is an indication, Vertetis clearly found his calling. With a passionate commitment to assisting victims in complex personal injury cases, including medical malpractice, wrongful death, sexual abuse, school liability, and civil rights claims, Vertetis works tirelessly to help those with the greatest needs.

Michelle Moersfelder is president of the Endowment for Equal Justice, an organization providing unrestricted sustainable funds for civil legal aid, impact litigation, and system advocacy. Moersfelder is also senior legal counsel to the Open Society Foundations, a philanthropy working to build vibrant and inclusive democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.