Georgetown Journal of Poverty Law & Policy Volume 28, Issue III (2021)
28 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2021 Last revised: 21 Apr 2021
Date Written: March 29, 2021
The civil justice gap is well-known, well-documented, and widening. Although judges, practitioners, and scholars have attempted for more than fifty years to increase the supply of civil legal services available to those in need, demand continues to dramatically outstrip supply. This article argues that given the static (or worsening) state of the civil justice gap, and the millions of Americans who do not even seek legal help for problems that otherwise might fall within that gap, legal literacy is paramount. Our colleagues in the public health profession use health literacy to help prevent health problems and temper demand for health services, and in fact, high levels of health literacy lead to fewer emergency room visits and better health outcomes. Health literacy is regularly included in public K-12 education. This article contends that we should try a similar approach for legal literacy. Legal literacy has the potential to prevent problems from reaching the point of needing formal legal intervention; it also can empower individuals to take advantage of existing legal protections on their own or make informed decisions regardless of the ultimate outcome. Increased legal literacy might also mean that Americans come to legal aid before problems are too far-gone and with more realistic expectations about results and remedies. After decades of chasing after supply-side solutions, it is time to look at demand.
Keywords: access to justice, legal literacy, pro bono, legal aid
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