200 In-House Attys Urge Congress To Up Legal Aid Funding

By Emma Cueto
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Law360 (June 25, 2020, 4:26 PM EDT) -- Corporate attorneys at roughly 200 organizations, including Amazon.com Inc., General Motors, 3M and PepsiCo Inc., have signed a letter to Congress in support of increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the country's largest funder of civil legal aid, saying those services are especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, which is dated June 19, praises LSC's track record of responding to crises and argues that attorneys' ability to help their communities through pro bono efforts depends on the infrastructure put in place by the organizations that LSC funds.

"Bipartisan support for LSC is a clear demonstration of our country's commitment to its deeply-held value of equal justice under law and of Congress' understanding about the power of civil legal aid to improve the lives of American people," the letter said. "At this critical moment, where the legal needs of low-income Americans are set to multiply, we ask that you further expand access to justice and help our communities respond to the consequences of this pandemic."

The signatories include attorneys at tech companies such as Google and Oracle, consumer goods and retail corporations like The Clorox Co. and Target Corp., financial industry giants like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, and health care organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and Bristol Myers Squibb Co.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, attorneys have been logging more pro bono hours, but many civil legal aid providers have been worried about funding for such services. In March, Congress approved $50 million for LSC as part of a relief package, even though the organization had requested $100 million to respond to the expected spike in demand.

Additionally, a recent survey by the National Association of IOLTA Programs found that civil legal aid providers have been reporting a drop in the money that traditionally comes from Interest on Lawyers Trust Account programs, which allow states to take interest from trust accounts and apply it to legal aid.

Historically, however, LSC has had success in securing funding. Although the Trump administration's proposed budgets have called for the elimination of all funding for LSC four years in a row, Congress has increased the money allocated to the organization during that time. 

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

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