By: Kenneth A. Smith, Kelly Thayer, and Kathy Garwold; Resource for Great Programs. Published by: Marin Community Foundation. Published in January 2013.
Funding for legal services programs supports day-to-day legal assistance to Marin County’s most vulnerable people living in one of the nation’s wealthiest county. In an average year, Marin County’s legal services programs handle approximately 4,400 cases, enabling low-income residents (and older adults and victims of domestic violence, regardless of income) to address critical legal issues directly affecting their families, homes, incomes, jobs, and access to vital services such as health care and utilities.
The three Marin-based legal services programs funded by MCF produce economic impacts that far exceed the investment made in their programs. A total of $7.7 million from all sources (MCF, Other Foundations, Courts, State Funds, Contributions, Attorney Fees, etc.) invested in legal services programs from 2009 through 2012 produced $38.3 million in economic benefits and savings to clients and communities, yielding a return on investment of about five to one. In addressing legal problems of clients, legal services programs secure millions of dollars in direct benefits for clients, stimulate local spending, sustain private sector jobs, and spare state and local budgets the costs of responding to family crises triggered by such issues as foreclosure, eviction, and domestic violence.
Legal services programs help ease the burden on the Marin County court system. Legal services advocates enable the Marin County Superior Court to operate more efficiently by helping low-income litigants navigate the court system and by hosting community legal education clinics to inform residents how the legal process works. Legal services advocates negotiate solutions in many cases that otherwise might result in litigation, counsel applicants against bringing non-meritorious cases to court, and refer clients to other sources of help (such as social service providers) when their cases lack legal merit.
Marin County’s legal services programs recruit and coordinate pro bono assistance. To help narrow the justice gap, legal services programs collaborate with bar associations to recruit private attorneys and law firms to contribute pro bono or free services. As a result of these recruitment and coordination efforts, in 2012, legal services volunteers in Marin County donated a total of 10,428 hours of services valued at $2.3 million.
Legal services programs are confronting a critical “justice gap” in Marin County that affects everyone. Legal services programs struggle every day to overcome the disparity between the volume of legal needs faced by applicants for their services and the legal resources available to meet them. Every additional $100,000 of funding that can be raised enables legal services programs to complete 240 more cases benefiting Marin County residents and generating an additional $475,000 in dollar benefits and cost savings.