CEJ AND YOU: Making "Equal Justice Under Law" A Reality
Nearly 850,000 low-income and elderly Oregonians qualify for the services of Oregon’s 100 legal aid attorneys; that’s one attorney for every 8,500 persons. For the general population there is one attorney for every 340 persons.
Our legal system is complex, and courts can be like a maze for non-lawyers. Without lawyers, people cannot meaningfully access the legal system to present meritorious claims and defenses.
A statewide legal needs study found that 70% of respondents who were represented by a legal aid attorney had a favorable view of the legal system, even when the issue was not resolved in their favor. Of respondents who did not have access to legal counsel, 75% had an unfavorable view of the legal system.
Oregon’s Chief Justice Thomas Balmer estimated in 2012 in Oregon family law cases, 80% of cases had one self-represented party, and in 50% both parties were self-represented. This puts a great burden on the court system, as judges and court staff spend extra time with self-represented litigants in an effort to make fair rulings. The resulting drain on court time affects all court users, regardless of income.
According to the comprehensive Oregon Legal Needs Study completed in 2000, more than 80% of the legal needs of low to moderate income Oregonians were going unserved each year. Today, the figure is closer to 85%.
Justice David Brewer speaks about access to justice at CEJ's 2011 Annual Awards Luncheon
Legal aid services are limited to critical needs: food, shelter, medical care, income maintenance and physical safety. About 34% of the cases are family law cases, usually helping the victims of domestic violence to obtain and enforce restraining orders and create a stable home environment for their children. Recent studies have shown that access to legal services is essential in the process of ending domestic violence.
We estimate that your donation will help legal services programs directly serve about 22,000 low-income clients this year. Legal aid stretches limited resources by providing self-help materials and pro bono programs. OregonLawHelp.org, legal aid’s self-help website, had more than 230,000 visitors last year.