Collaboration and Cooperation Bridge Chasms in Understanding Legal Issues

Lawyer consulting woman on legal help at a table in a law firm

When Americans face an injustice, calling a lawyer isn’t usually their first thought – not because they fear the expense, but because they truly don’t realize their problem might have an available remedy under civil law.

Studies show that Americans don’t consider problems with insurance, family relationships, housing, property damage, personal injury, employment and working conditions as potential legal matters; they’re simply issues everyone deals with in life.*

Low-income Americans are particularly unlikely to seek legal help.

Income and Location Influence Outcome

Annually, up to half of all American households face justice-related problems that have “potentially wide-ranging and powerful impacts on core areas” of their lives.† Because low-income Americans are struggling to meet basic life needs already, a sudden burden of property damage or unexpected denial of a benefit can be debilitating.

Neighborhood Legal Services is a civil legal aid organization that works toward justice and fairness for low-income individuals in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania. NLS helps ordinary people – people just like you – escape from an abusive partner, stop a wrongful eviction or foreclosure, defend against a fraudulent debt collector and more.

But too often, ordinary people who seek to protect their families, their homes and their livelihoods must face court without legal help. Finding yourself in court alone can be terrifying, but that is exactly what’s happening today in three out of four civil court cases.

As NLS helps clients with their current problems, attorneys and staff also educate them on strategies for preventing future legal issues, thereby developing what’s called “legal literacy.” NLS has taken the concept of legal literacy to the community, too, proactively working to engage vulnerable individuals and populations by providing them with resources to prevent and avoid legal difficulties.

Legal Literacy is a Powerful Tool

NLS attorneys are making a real difference in individuals’ lives … and because the demand is so great, we created the Legal Literacy Community Education Initiative to proactively take information directly into the community. This outreach arms vulnerable residents of our region with knowledge of their legal rights and the ability to use that knowledge to their benefit.

NLS’ Legal Literacy Initiative provides community education programming to various population groups, such as veterans, young adults in transition, women in domestic violence shelters and youth aging out of foster care, just to name a few. The overarching goal of this initiative is to promote a basic understanding of the law and an individual’s legal rights, thereby providing them with the knowledge and tools needed to protect their families, home and health.

We Solve Problems

One example of this concept is an outreach effort by NLS to women in residential recovery treatment programs. Legal difficulties often are barriers faced by women in recovery as they prepare to return to the community. NLS attorneys visit residential facilities to present information on relevant legal topics to these women and offer guidance on specific issues, helping to resolve them where possible and teaching women how to avoid future difficulties.

Another example is a community education program presented to participants in workforce development programs that focuses on driver’s license restoration and criminal record expungement, empowering people to remove legal barriers to employment.

We Build Bridges

Civil legal aid provided by NLS and its Legal Literacy Initiative is a best-kept secret when it comes to ensuring fairness in the justice system. Justice depends on having a fair chance to be heard, regardless of who you are, where you live or how much money you have. Together with supporters and community partners, NLS staff and volunteers work tirelessly each day to help bridge the justice gap … but the demand is huge and growing.

We can bridge the justice gap if we work together. If you’re interested in joining the team or supporting our efforts with a generous gift, please contact us.

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