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05/05/2009

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MAJORITY OF AMERICANS HARD-HIT BY RECESSION, STAND FIRM BEHIND FEDERAL FUNDING FOR LEGAL ASSISTANCE

New Survey Offers New Insight on Legal Ripples from Financial Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 20, 2009 - Many Americans report their financial fortunes are falling, but a new survey commissioned by the American Bar Association and conducted by Harris Interactive records high support levels for provision of the basic legal help for those in crisis.

More than half of all Americans (53 percent) said their family's financial situation had worsened in the past six months. In the wake of the recession, grantees of Legal Services Corporation in all regions of the country are reporting a wave of new clients seeking help. Agencies say that common issues include: foreclosure prevention, late payments on medical bills, car and credit cards, and delinquent child support.

The survey, commissioned by the American Bar Association, was conducted by phone by Harris Interactive between April 1-5 among 1,016 U.S. residents aged 18 and older. Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income.

"For many Americans, their financial problems are becoming legal problems," noted ABA President H. Thomas Wells, Jr. "In many circumstances, legal assistance can prevent families and individuals from going into a financial free-fall that could lead to homelessness, bankruptcy or dropping out of school."

U.S. adults overwhelmingly back provision of legal services for those facing serious legal and financial problems who could not hire a lawyer: Over two-thirds (68 percent) say it's extremely or very important that Americans have access to legal resources and advice when they are in crisis.

"Good advice leads to the best, fastest resolution for all parties before things reach a crisis point," said Wells. "The laws involved are complicated for anyone to navigate. Legal aid providers are the critical source of help to many in trouble."

Americans also strongly support the existence of, and federal funding for, the work of Legal Services Corporation and its grantees. Eighty-eight percent agreed that it is essential that a non-profit provider of legal services is available to assist those who could not otherwise afford legal help. Two thirds support federal funding to help Americans who need that assistance.

Survey results also show a high awareness of the work LSC grantees do: 71 percent of Americans are aware that, in most communities, free legal help is available to some people faced with serious legal and financial problems.

"Communities are very aware of the positive impact legal aid providers have and they are crying out for strong federal support of this program, especially during a time of crisis when a variety of other funding sources are sharply down," stated Wells. "That's why, this year, the presidents of all state and territorial bar associations and the leaders of four major U.S. minority bar associations joined with the ABA to send a letter to Congress clearly stating the need for a strong Legal Services Corporation. America's lawyers are trying to help those caught in the financial downturn in numerous ways. Ensuring we have a strong LSC is an important piece of the puzzle."

A one-page summary of the results can be found here: click here

The full study can be found here:click here

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