Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Seattle University School of Law, Seattle University
January 1, 2010
This article gathers the results of the existing studies of the financial and other societal benefits of the work of civil legal aid programs, which provide free or low-cost legal assistance to low-income individuals. It also identifies ongoing or planned research projects.
Abel gathers the results of existing studies and identifies ongoing or planned research, as well as suggests possible future fields of study. Abel points out that economic and other concrete societal benefits of legal aid can motivate funders but there is a lack of information about whether these economic benefits actually exist. In the studies that she surveyed, Abel found that the following provided economic benefits:
- Legal support for victims of domestic violence reduced domestic violence rates and the associated law enforcement costs;
- Representation of parents in child welfare cases kept families together and reduced the time children spent in foster care;
- Medical legal partnerships for clients with medical and legal needs improved these clients’ health and generated revenue for hospitals;
- Legal support for children with criminal records reduced re-arrest rates, lowering law enforcement costs
Abel suggests that future research should study the effect of civil legal representation on foreclosure and the effect of legal aid over an extended period of time. Overall, she states that a few factors will make studying the effects of civil legal aid easier:
- Increased use of electronic files by legal aid organizations, which make sorting through information
- Legal aid organizations learning about what additional information, within ethical boundaries, that they should collect on their clients.
- Increased use by legal aid organizations and social sciences of other sources of information beyond the legal environment.
Abel, however, does warn that using existing records may lead to a “case selection” bias – studies will be based only on the cases selected by legal aid organizations due to the chance of success. To handle this issue, Abel supports the use of randomized studies as a gold standard, citing a randomized study of tenant housing in New York as an example.
PUBLICATION DETAILSFormat: Research
Publication Type: Journal Article
Geographic coverage, US: NATIONAL
Topics: Legal Needs | Benefits of Legal Aid: Economic & Social Return on Investment | Benefits of Legal Aid: Other | Measurement | Research Agenda | Randomized Research
Who Served: General/unspecified clients
How Provided: Legal Aid Attorneys
Permalink URL of this page: http://legalaidresearch.org/?p=1691
LINKS TO RESOURCESArticle link (PDF)
Collections: Legacy (was on old site)