You only have as much legal assistance as you have green in your wallet! This is not only true for Louisiana but all across the United States. At LegalShield, we are doing something about it.
From an article on Nola.com:
Forty-seven states provide funding to help their most vulnerable citizens secure free legal assistance in civil matters. The amounts vary widely, according to the American Bar Association: Arkansas provides $556,000 annually; Mississippi $708,000; Georgia $3.1 million; and Texas nearly $72 million.
Louisiana, which has the worst health care, the second highest rates of poverty and domestic violence, as well as being more prone to natural disasters than all but 10 states, provides nothing.
The consequences of this can be devastating both individually and to a state’s economy, said James Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, a national nonprofit that provides funding for civil legal aid. If indigent people can’t effectively access the courts, they lose the ability to protect their vital interests such as housing, employment, health insurance, and parental rights, he said.
“Most Americans don’t realize there is no right to a lawyer in a civil case,” Sandman said. “They don’t realize you could lose your home or your children or be a victim of abuse in need of a protective order and you have no right to a lawyer. Fortunately, the vast majority of states recognize the role of government in trying to make the system accessible to all people, regardless of their incomes.”
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services – a nonprofit that provides free legal representation in 22 parishes, including Orleans – does what it can to fill the gap and meet the substantial demand, but it does so with limited resources.
In 2017, SLLS handled more than 12,000 cases which had a direct economic impact of $23 million. And yet, in 75 percent of civil cases in Louisiana, one or both of the parties involved are still forced to represent themselves.
The urgent need for state funding was more recently highlighted during the federal government shutdown, which followed two years of threats from President Donald Trump to eliminate all money going to civil legal aid. This presented an existential crisis for SLLS as 60 percent of its budget comes from federal dollars. Should that money go away, and without any state funding to fall back on, the organization would all but cease to exist, said executive director Laura Tuggle.
“We find ourselves having to make hard decisions and turning people away for a lot of things,” Tuggle said. “There’s no safe funding.”
Louisiana has an opportunity in the upcoming legislative session to restore the funding former Gov. Bobby Jindal eliminated eight years ago. Jay Dardenne, commissioner of the Division of Administration said the administration received a $500,000 request from SLLS and its sister organization, Acadiana Legal Services Corporation.
“We recognize the importance of the work done by these organizations, and we’re considering the budget request alongside the dozens from other nongovernmental organizations,” he said in an emailed response.