As your editorial notes (“Mass. needs new strategies to meet needs of poor litigants”), demand for civil legal aid continues to outstrip supply. Among attorneys and others in the field, this is known as the “justice gap,” and few believe that funding alone will close it.
In 1996, the Legal Services Corp., an independent entity created by Congress in 1974 to support civil legal aid organizations around the country, issued a report touting the benefits of technology to increase the capacity of civil legal aid organizations. Today, self-help centers and technology have radically reshaped the delivery of civil legal aid, and there are online sources of legal assistance in each of the 50 states.
In Massachusetts, the online self-help portal MassLegalServices.org assists civil legal aid advocates in creating legal documents for clients, and MassLegalHelp.org provides legal information to consumers. Courts in Massachusetts have also opened a pilot self-help center in Boston and are in the process of opening a second one in Greenfield.
Despite these and other efforts, the justice gap in Massachusetts is getting wider. Better use of technology and expanding the pool of those qualified to help may be important pieces of the solution. But there is no way around the need for increased investment by the state. This is especially true given that every dollar invested in civil legal aid returns between $2.69 and $5 to the state in savings on services related to emergency shelter, domestic violence, and access to public benefits.