A 2015 study was commissioned by the Washington State Supreme Court,
which documents the real and growing civil legal needs that low-income Washingtonians face. Low-income Washingtonians
multiple civil legal problems, but few get the help they need. In
addition, many do not believe they will receive fair treatment from the
State's Civil Justice System.The 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update,
commissioned by the Civil Legal Needs
Study Update Committee and the Washington State Supreme Court, challenges us to do better:
Ultimately, it challenges us
- It challenges us to ensure that low-income residents understand their legal rights and know where to look for legal help when they need it.
- It challenges us
to squarely address not only the scope of problems presented, but the
systems that result in disparate experiences depending on one’s race,
ethnicity, victim status or other identifying characteristics.
- It challenges us
to be aware of the costs and consequences of administering a system of
justice that denies large segments of the population the ability to
assert and effectively defend core legal rights.
to work all the harder to secure the investments needed to deliver on
the promise embedded in our constitutional history and our nation’s
creed – that liberty and justice be made available “to all.” (Justice
Charles K. Wiggins, Chair, Civil Legal Needs Study Update Committee)
This study covers topics such as -
Washington's Civil Justice System must serve all of us
Facing complex problems on their own
7 in 10 experience serious civil legal problems each year
Who you are matters
Discrimination and unfair treatment are prevalent
Victim so of domestic violence experience the most problems
Many are adversely affected by data tracking
Most face civil legal problems alone
The Challenge - turning findings into actionTo learn more, view:
- More than 70% of low-income Washingtonians experience at least one civil legal problem per year.
The average number of civil legal problems experience per low-income household per year is 9.3, which is nearly triple the number recorded from the 2003 study.
More than ¾ of Washingtonians that experience civil legal problems face their problems alone (i.e. they are unable to get the civil legal help that they need). (2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update, Civil Legal Needs Study Update Committee, Washington State Supreme Court, October 2015)
- Civil legal issues are common. Seven in ten low-income households in Washington State face at least one significant civil legal problem each year. The average number of problems per household increased from 3.3 in 2003 to 9.3 in the latest, 2014 survey.
The most common problems have changed. Health care, consumer/finance and employment now represent the three areas with the highest percentage of problems.
Race, ethnicity and other personal characteristics affect the number and type of problems people have. These personal characteristics also affect the degree to which people experience discrimination or unfair treatment and the degree to which legal help is secured.
Victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault experience the highest number of problems per capita of any group.
Many are adversely affected by data tracking. In addition to discrimination and unfair treatment of legally protected classes of people (for example, race), significant percentages of low-income households experience unfair treatment on the basis of their credit histories, prior involvement with the juvenile or adult criminal justice system and/or their status as a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
There is a significant legal literacy problem. A majority of low-income people do not understand that the problems they experience have a legal dimension and that they would benefit from getting legal help.
The vast majority of people face their problems alone. More than three-quarters (76%) of those who have a legal problem do not get the help they need.
Most low-income people have limited confidence in the state’s civil justice system. Also perceptions about the fairness and effectiveness of the system to help solve problems experienced by “people like me” differ significantly on the basis of race, ethnicity and other characteristics. (source: 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update, Civil Legal Needs Study Update Committee, Washington State Supreme Court, Executive Summary, pg 3, October 2015. View this report at
- Volunteer attorneys can help make legal services available to all people,
including the elderly, disabled, or low/no income families. Good legal
advice can help prevent problems. Volunteer attorneys who do pro bono
work do it out of the goodness of their hearts. They are compassionate
and positive, look forward to helping, and enjoy the rewards.
- Volunteer attorneys can provide estate planning,
meeting with clients in nursing homes, hospitals, and private homes, as
well as their office, preparing wills or trusts, deeds, powers of
attorney, and advance medical directives. It is estimated that 78% of
people in America die without a Will.
- Pro se clinics coach clients representing themselves on court procedures.
- Night courts lighten the case
load for judges and help a large number of people quickly—thus,
reducing the enormous backlog of cases waiting to be heard.