The Justice Gap
Modest wage earners in the USA—those within 200%-400% of federal poverty level—are on their own when they seek access to justice. They are ineligible for traditional forms of free legal aid and unable to afford private counsel. In Washington, DC, over 100,000 residents fall within this range of income and 9 out of 10 of those residents are forced to represent themselves pro se in legal proceedings where they can be at risk of losing custody of their children, being deported from this country, or facing other potentially life-altering consequences.
Recognizing the need for accessible legal assistance for residents of the District of Columbia, Georgetown University Law Center, Arent Fox LLP, and DLA Piper LLP joined together to create the DC Affordable Law Firm (“DCALF”) in 2015. DCALF, a charitable non-profit, charges modest fees consistent with a client’s ability to pay. Given the tremendous unmet legal needs of hardworking, modest wage earners, it is not surprising that in the brief time since it was created, DCALF has more legal work than it can handle.
In Fall of 2020 , DCALF launched a central partnership with the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, the District of Columbia’s only public law school and one of only six American Bar Association-approved law schools at a Historically Black College or University. This key development resulted in a 44% increase in our legal team, enriching the quality and caliber of DCALF’s staff and enabling our organization to have a greater community impact.
Schooled by a custom-designed 12-week training program, DCALF’s lawyers are immediately prepared to provide effective representation to their clients. Clients of DCALF finally have advocates fighting for their rights—they no longer have to contend with legal issues and opposing counsel on their own.
DCALF has quickly demonstrated that its groundbreaking concept works and is a model that should be replicated nationally. There are millions of modest-income people that need but cannot afford a lawyer to handle their critical needs. The DCALF model, if replicated, can ultimately expand access to civil justice for this population in cities and towns across the USA. Broadening DCALF’s leadership base will help DCALF achieve this goal.
DC Affordable Law Firm is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide high-quality, affordable legal services to DC Residents with unmet legal needs who do not qualify for free legal aid and are unable to pay prevailing legal rates.