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Catholic University Law Review

Abstract

When individuals in the United States face civil justice issues, they are not entitled to legal counsel and therefore must secure paid counsel, proceed pro se or qualify for free legal assistance. As a result of the economic downturn, the number of Americans who are unable to afford legal counsel is now at an all-time high. In response to this ever-widening justice gap, the public interest community has launched multiple initiatives to supplement the underfunded legal aid system. Though valiant, this article argues that this approach has unfortunately created a complex, fragmented and overlapping delivery system for legal aid. This article first provides an understanding of the current civil legal landscape, especially as it impacts low-income and modest-means Americans. This article then examines the many initiatives developed as a means of closing the justice gap and whether such initiatives have helped or harmed underserved populations. Finally, this article proposes three specific reforms – the development of a comprehensive triage mechanism, the infusion of business process improvement within legal aid organizations and the creation of legal information exchange organizations – all of which, if implemented, will make great strides toward streamlining the delivery system for civil legal aid.