Northern California Record

Friday, November 22, 2019

More than 20 million Californians lack access to legal services, new state bar board chair says

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By Karen Kidd | Oct 1, 2019

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SAN FRANCISCO – Millions of Californians are unable to access legal services and the state's legal community must continue to lead the way to rectify that problem, a newly sworn-in state bar official recently said.

"Access to justice has been a problem in California for a long time," State Bar of California Board chair Alan Steinbrecher was quoted in a Sept. 20 state bar news release. "It's a nationwide and international problem. California has always been a leader on this issue, and we will continue to work on this challenge."

The state's legal community must be "proactive" in addressing that challenge, Steinbrecher said.

Steinbrecher, along with the state bar's new vice-chair Sean SeLegue and Assembly appointee Juan De La Cruz, was sworn in by California Supreme Court Justice Joshua P. Groban during the board's Sept. 19-20 meeting at the state bar's Los Angeles office.

In addition to the swearing in, the board also received progress reports on key state bar strategic objectives and initiatives, including its California Justice Gap Study.

Preliminary findings of a survey of nearly 4,000 Californians, one of the main elements of the California Justice Gap Study, were presented during the board's meeting. 

"The findings spotlight the significant gap between the need for civil legal services and Californians’ ability to access legal help," the news release said. 

This year's edition of the report found that about 55 percent of Californians of all income levels experienced at least one civil legal issue within their household over the past year but almost 70 percent had no legal assistance, according to the news release.

The numbers translate into less than 1 in 3 Californians seeking legal assistance to address their legal issues, with problems clustering in low-income houses. Lower-income households had more than four civil legal problems, while households with higher incomes experienced slightly more than two civil legal problems, according to the news release.

Less than 30 percent of low-income Californians experiencing a need for civil legal representation received "some legal help," while 34 percent of middle-income individuals did, the news release said.

"Our newest research indicates that over 20 million Californians - at all income levels - lack access to legal services," Steinbrecher was quoted in the news release. "It’s important that we are proactive and ensure that we are working to meet the enormous need."

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