Tugging at the Heart Strings of Legal Aid

Ken Liu

One of the most unfortunate things I’ve seen in the Christian Legal Aid world is how challenging it is for CLA programs to raise support. Why is this? Although I don’t have hard data, after working with CLA clinics for many years what I’ve gathered anecdotally are these factors:

  • First, most people don’t know what legal aid is. The average middle class person has no clue why poor people need lawyers. They know the poor need help with food, clothing, housing, and health care, but lawyers? What do they need lawyers for? 
  • Legal aid doesn’t fit neatly into major funders’ priorities. "Legal services" simply isn’t a recognized charitable category. 
  • It’s hard to find good photos for legal aid promotions. Photos of "Warrants in Debt" and "Summons for Unlawful Detainer" don’t exactly tug at the heartstrings like pictures of cuddly puppies. 
  • Christians today are much more motivated by other causes (such as "culture war" type of issues). 
  • Non-lawyers think all lawyers are rich, so they believe lawyers should bear the brunt of funding legal aid since it’s their field. 
  • But sadly, lawyers, including Christian lawyers, simply are not big donors to legal aid.  

So what are CLA clinics to do? Well, certainly there are many fundraising strategies that can be adopted. For instance, rather than promoting "legal aid" as a concept to the general public, clinics can tell stories about the specific ways that their work benefits clients, such as saving families from evictions and protecting women from domestic violence.

But I do pray that attorneys will come to see that the legal system really is our field. As we are the gate keepers to the legal system, we do have a moral obligation to help those who lack access to justice – either by providing help ourselves, contributing to those who are providing help, or doing something to open the gates and allow more people to get justice. 

I encourage those of you reading this to please support a Christian Legal Aid clinic near you. If you don’t have a clinic near you, below is a list of CLA programs holding fundraising events this fall. I’m sure these clinics would welcome your support from afar. And as readers of this CLA newsletter, I trust you understand the value of legal aid, with or without photos of sad-looking puppies.