Ken Liu reads the Bible like an attorney. When Proverbs 31:9 says to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” and Psalm 82:3 says to “uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed,” he hears the Scriptures addressing lawyers like him.
“God really calls us attorneys specifically to serve the poor,” said Liu, director of Christian Legal Aid, a branch of the Christian Legal Society. “So many of the causes of poverty are legal issues…. In this country, lawyers have a monopoly on providing legal services. If we don’t help, no one else can.”
Liu is one of hundreds of lawyers in more than 60 clinics across the country who are motivated by their belief in Jesus and their understanding of the Bible to give their time and skill to minister in the justice system.
The clinics in the Christian Legal Aid network represent people who cannot afford market-rate legal representation, which averages $100–$400 per hour in the US. The Christian lawyers offer pro bono or “low bono” help, often with sliding-scale fees determined by what a client can afford.
Some of the clinics focus on helping immigrants and refugees. Vineyard Immigrant Counseling Service outside Columbus, Ohio, for example, focuses on defending people seeking asylum and immigrants who were brought to the US as children. Immigrant Hope, in Clifton, New Jersey, helps with naturalization, petitions, permanent resident card applications, and renewals, providing legal services in Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Albanian, and Portuguese.
But the crisis that Christian legal aid clinics were bracing for at the start of 2021 was the eviction of poor people from their homes, as pandemic-related moratoriums protecting struggling renters started to disappear.
“COVID has taken an already-compromised situation for tenants and made it just untenable,” said Al Johnson, director of New Covenant Legal Services in St. Louis.