Economic Impacts of Legal Aid: Civil Justice for Low-Income People Creates Ripple Effects That Benefit Every Segment of the Communities We Serve

By: Kenneth A. Smith, Barbara Finkelstein, Christopher O’Malley and Resource for Great Programs. Published by: MIE Journal. Published in October 2011.

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This article addresses three questions: How are state and local civil justice leaders using economic impact information to successfully preserve and even expand funding for their programs in the face of historic budgetary pressures at the local and state levels? What are the economic impacts that legal aid programs produce for the larger community in the course of addressing the legal needs of their clients, and how can we quantify them? What lessons have we learned to date about the effective use of economic impact information in efforts to secure more funding for access-to-justice programs? In addressing these questions, the article presents three case examples of how economic impact information has been used with great success in 2010 and 2011. The examples illustrate that cost-benefit data can have the greatest power when it leverages — rather than replaces — the traditional message of unmet need for legal assistance. In each of these cases, the “economic impact story” has revealed to decision makers a view of legal aid that they had never seen before: demonstrating it to be a vital “engine” that produces economic stability and jobs and saves taxpayers money.

All three of our case studies come from New York State, but the lessons they provide are applicable anywhere. Two of the cases describe results that were achieved in a statewide context; the other case describes a single legal aid provider’s efforts to preserve county funding. Leaders in other states have had comparable successes in applying economic impact information to broaden and strengthen their case for civil justice funding.

Categories: General/Unspecified Clients, Legal Aid Attorneys, Legal Aid Practitioners, Policymakers and Funders, State-Specific

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