City Bar President Calls for Increased and Steady Source of Funding for Civil Legal Services in Testimony at Chief Judge’s Hearing

In testimony today at Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearing on Civil Legal Services, New York City Bar President Samuel W. Seymour called for increased and steady funding to close the “justice gap” for low-income New Yorkers.  

Seymour called the Task Force’s documented statistics on unrepresented litigants—2.3 million New Yorkers annually, including 95% of litigants in eviction, consumer credit and child support cases, and 44% in foreclosure cases—“startling,” and said that civil legal services providers are, at best, meeting only 20% of need due to lack of resources. This comes at a time when the need is increasing due to increased foreclosure and consumer debt filings, as documented by the Chief Judge’s Task Force.

“[T]he City Bar is in a unique position to witness the effects of lack of representation for low-income parties in civil matters,” said Seymour. “In addition to coordinating pro bono representation by volunteer lawyers, our Justice Center provides direct legal representation in certain cases. Our committees that study these issues are comprised of both pro bono lawyers and legal services lawyers. As such, I am confident in stating that attorney volunteers cannot close the justice gap about which I’ve testified. While we can marshal volunteers – and the Bar has been generous in its volunteer efforts – there simply are not enough volunteer hours in a day to address this problem. Rather, there needs to be an increased and steady source of funding which can be used to provide civil legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers in cases involving life’s essentials and to increase their access to alternative dispute resolution processes. This will not only assist the litigants and the courts, but it will also provide better outcomes for communities.”

In his submitted testimony, Seymour urged the Judiciary to include a total of $37.5 million for civil legal services in the 2012-2013 Budget, “which would carry forward the Chief Judge’s plan of adding $100 million over four years to provide adequate legal representation for the poor.”