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Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal

Abstract

This empirical study, using quantitative and qualitative techniques, attempts to assess the state of the legal needs of nonprofit organizations, with an emphasis on the ways in which nonprofit organizations are or are not accessing assistance addressing their legal services needs. While most research into the extent to which Americans may or may not be accessing legal services focuses on the legal needs of individuals and families, this study focuses on the legal needs of nonprofit groups. Our goal with this research project is to contribute to the growing literature on the scope of unmet legal needs in the United States. The findings from this study suggest that many of the groups we surveyed and with which we communicated do have access to legal representation, particularly as groups grow in terms of their financial wherewithal (that is, the size of their budgets). Smaller groups appear to face greater barriers to obtaining legal services, and we attempt to probe some of the reasons that is the case. At the same time, many groups, large and small, are meeting their legal needs through a range of legal services providers: whether they use legal services providers that are themselves nonprofit entities that offer them assistance; they obtain the volunteer services of private lawyers who provide representation; or they are simply paying for legal services themselves. Often, as our findings indicate, they are using a mix of these different resources: they are paying for services, obtaining nonprofit legal services free of charge, and/or utilizing the services of pro bono counsel. This study attempts to begin to fill the gap in the research by exploring not just the unmet legal needs of nonprofit groups, but also probing the ways in which nonprofit entities that are accessing legal services are able to obtain those services, and from whom. It also attempts to create a taxonomy of needs: an assessment of the types of legal needs theorganizations we surveyed face.

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