At the retreat last weekend the keynote speaker was Robin Steinberg from the Bronx Defenders. They run a full-service, one-stop legal aid clinic complete with a web of referral services designed to address the complexity of poverty one person at a time, rather than one legal proceding at a time.
Think about it: You get arrested for drug possession, so you need a defense lawyer. You pay $200 bail so you won't get fired from your job, so you don't have money for rent this month and you get evicted. Now you need someone in the landlord/tenant department. In the meantime the state has sheltered your kids due to the drug charges (which don't have to be proven to issue a shelter order), so now you need a family lawyer. Then your 20-year-old car you can't afford to maintain breaks down and you go to the local check-cashing cornershop to get the $200 to fix it, knowing that they'll charge you like 200% interest, but also knowing that if you don't fix your car you can't get to work and you'll lose your job. Of course, by now you've miss so much work for your court hearings that you get fired anyway and you can't pay back the loan. You need an employment lawyer and a consumer lawyer to get the creditors off your back. This scenario assumes, of course, that you and your kids are healthy and never have any accidents, because naturally you don't have health insurance.
Now why, you ask, can't one lawyer just handle all that? Ok, really--would you ask a podiatrist to perform your lobotomy? Well, lawyers are just as specialized as doctors, and one department just can't handle the variety of issues a person living close to the financial edge presents.
So add to this one-stop model of legal help referrals to (or in-house) counseling services, drug rehab programs, employment skills training, and mentorship programs, and you just be able to do some good. So... wanna build one of these somewhere else?