The latest news about poverty in the wealthiest nation in the world is deeply disturbing. According to various reports, this year the United States will see the highest incidence of poverty since 1965. That shocking statistic, coupled with the devastating downturn in funding and staffing for the programs supported by the Legal Services Corp. (LSC), signals the worst access to justice crisis in our history at a time when the courts, also facing funding cuts and severe resource limitations, are ill equipped to handle a tidal wave of unrepresented litigants. The LSC reported last week that the civil legal assistance organizations it funds expect to be forced to lay off about 8 percent of their lawyers and support staff this year.

Pro bono service by the legal profession is no substitute for public support and adequate funding for expert legal services advocates. It is also not the solution to the crisis in the justice system facing this nation and our profession, but it surely can help. The spike in the number of Americans living in poverty has renewed the perennial debate surrounding the most appropriate definition of pro bono at this difficult time. A growing number of commentators are urging that the broad definition of pro bono in many ethics rules and bar association aspirational resolutions be pared down to reflect the area of growing and greatest need: legal services to poor families and individuals.

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