That's despite the staffing issues that already plague the program. Legal Aid has just 40 lawyers to handle cases in the state's 55 counties, according to Legal Aid's website, and demand for more lawyers is not getting any lighter.
In 2010 alone, demand for Legal Aid services increased 20 percent from the previous year, said Legal Aid director of development Jennifer Jordan.
"We were already turning people away because of inadequate resources," Jordan said.
Nearly half of Legal Aid's funding is appropriated by the federal government. With the November bill, the 2012 national budget for state-funded legal services will stand at $348 million -- down from $404 million in 2011 and $420 million in 2010.
Congress appropriates the money to the Legal Services Corp., which doles out the funding to each of the 50 states. This year's cuts were widely believed to have been necessary to prevent a government shutdown.
Bob Bastress, a law professor at West Virginia University and member of the Access to Justice Commission, said that the state lawmakers have made strides in helping Legal Aid's budget woes, including passing a measure last year that imposed a circuit court filing fee that went to support the program.
But with federal funding waning every year, lawmakers should be open to the idea of increasing funding for legal services on the state level, Bastress said.
"We're nowhere near what neighboring states invest in [legal services] for the poor," he said. "Legal Aid desperately needs money."
Deborah Bogan, director of the Access to Justice Commission, said its members are still in the beginning stages of identifying the needs of the state's justice system. Once identified, the panel members will begin drawing up plans on how to fix those problems.
"What the commission has been charged with is to find other ways to meet those needs, so that the burden doesn't lie solely upon Legal Aid," she said.
Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Tay...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.