Opposition from the leadership of several law firms in Clark County and across the nation is growing against President Donald Trump’s budget proposal calling for the elimination of funding for Legal Services Corp. — an entity that helps some of the poorest individuals in the country with various legal issues.
On March 9, heads of more than 150 law firms sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget — an office within the Executive Office of the President that assists in the creating the presidential budget —urging him to not support the defunding of Legal Services Corp.
OMB has since prepared a budget proposal doing just that.
“It is vitally important that we do all we can to provide access to justice to those who can’t afford legal services,” said Liz Sharrer, chair of Denver-based Holland &Hart. “We add our voices to the many law firms who feel this way and hope the government support for legal assistance remains intact.”
Holland &Hart, which has offices in Las Vegas, was one of the many firms included in the letter to the OMB.
Nationwide, there are more than 100 civil-legal aid programs funded by Legal Services Corp. that help individuals with things like foreclosure prevention, tenants’ rights and family law. Legal aid centers also help seniors with Medicare and Social Security, along with veterans and domestic violence victims.
Across Nevada, there are six offices funded by Legal Services Corp., including one in downtown Las Vegas. All the offices run under the name Nevada Legal Services Corp. And all are under threat of shutting down if Congress should decide to pass a budget eliminating funding for LSC.
Bill Curran, chairman of the board of Nevada Legal Services Inc., said the entity would lose 52 percent of its funding, likely leading the agency to closing its doors statewide.
Nevada Legal Services also gains funding from grants, foundations and donations.
Comparably, Nevada is about average when it comes to using federal funding for its legal-aid programs. Most states obtain 30 to 50 percent of the funding for civil legal-aid programs through federal dollars. This percentage runs even higher in some of the nation’s poorer states.
There is a financial payback to funding the LSC. Several state-level studies in the U.S. have shown that funding legal aid has a return on investment.
In the letter to the OMB, it was noted that a 2011 study by the Pennsylvania Finance and Budget Committee and the Pennsylvania IOLTA program estimated that for every dollar spent on legal aid, $11 of quantifiable economic outcomes and savings were realized for every resident of the state. Other state-level studies showed a return of $5 to $11 for every dollar spent on legal aid services.
Jobs could be lost in Nevada if funding is discontinued.
Curran, who is also senior counsel at Ballard Spahr LLP, which is one of the firms that signed the letter to the OMB, said that Nevada Legal Services employees 16 people statewide.
There were 356 volunteer private attorneys who donated their time in 2016 across Nevada, he added.
Another group of legal professionals is already putting pressure on politicians. In March, 185 in-house counsel, or leaders of corporate legal departments, that represent the technology, pharmaceutical, media and retail industries, along with other sectors, sent a letter to Congress, urging lawmakers to fund Legal Services for $450 million in fiscal year 2018.
In the letter, counsel from large corporations such as Yahoo! Inc., Discover Financial Services and The Walt Disney Co., said the funding level is “consistent with the appropriation received in FY2010, adjusted for inflation.”
LSC had a FY2017 budget request of $502 million.
LSC was established by Congress in 1974 during the Nixon Administration as a nonprofit corporation. It was created in a bipartisan effort between Republicans and Democrats.
Since its inception, LSC has faced challenges, especially during Ronald Reagan’s term, though bipartisan support kept the entity going. LSC also ran into trouble in the mid-1990s when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich attempted to defund it.