Week 6 – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week 6

I am choosing to write about an article from Bridge Detroit called “‘Rationing justice’: Legal aid programs struggle to meet high demand” by Nushrat Rahman.

“‘We’ve never been funded at a level to really provide services. We are always rationing justice, which is terrible when you really think of that, but that’s what we’re doing,’ said Ann Routt, executive director of the Michigan Advocacy Program, a free civil legal aid program covering 13 counties, including Washtenaw, Monroe and Lenawee counties”

This article starts off by talking about Kelisha Williams who has been trying to get a divorce for five years, and because of a car accident she did not have a steady income leading to the inability to afford a lawyer. However, the cost for legal representation was between $8,000 to $10,000. The Third Circuit Court Judge referred her to the William Booth Legal Aid Clinic, a free legal service provider, but if the court had not told her about the clinic she likely would have been waiting for someone to call her back or tell her they’re not accepting clients. William stated “It wasn’t hard finding them. It was just hard to get someone to help you”. Not only is the accessibility of these providers not as well known but along with this the likelihood that you can get an attorney is low. Most of the nonprofit providers have to turn people away when they’re booked with clients, because there are more than 1.7 million low-income Michiganders that qualify civil legal aid, however there is only one available attorney for every 5,401 eligible residents according to the Michigan State Bar Foundation. “Legal aid groups say the demand for free housing, family and consumer finance services far outweighs the available funding”. Usually this is because of the funding provided to these agencies.

Overall I found that the article is very informative about the legal aid providers and their circumstances they face in Detroit as the collective problems like funding, awareness, and resources all are interrelated. And the article itself is one aspect of how to create more awareness around resources and accessibility to legal aid organizations.

Finally another aspect of this story that intrigued me is how legal aid providers’ cases differed based on the socio-economic circumstances Detroit residents face, so during the pandemic, legal aid providers had more housing-related cases because of an influx of funding to keep people in their homes as they faced economic uncertainty.

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