New Report: the Economic Benefits of Civil Legal Aid in Illinois

By: Steve Grumm

The Chicago Bar Foundation and a group of other stakeholders have released a report they commissioned to look at the economic benefits that the work of the Illinois civil legal aid community brings to the larger society.  The study, performed by the Social IMPACT Research Center of the Heartland Alliance, looks like it was a pretty rigorous affair.  And it concludes that, considering work done in preventing homelessness and domestic violence, as well as securing federal benefits and monetary awards to which low-income clients are entitled, the benefits of civil legal aid to larger society are tangible indeed.

Here’s a link to press release, and here’s one to the full report, Legal Aid in Illinois: Selected Social and Economic Benefits.

Here’s are some key points from the report’s executive summary:

The Chicago Bar Foundation, the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, the Illinois Bar Foundation, the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, and the Polk Bros. Foundation commissioned this study to inform policymakers and other stakeholders about the tangible economic benefits of legal aid. This study quantifies some of the benefits to clients and other Illinoisans from cases closed by seven legal aid providers that are part of the larger network of 38 legal aid providers funded by The Chicago Bar Foundation and the Lawyers Trust Fund. It uses data from civil law cases in which clients resided in Illinois. These include cases in which a provider communicated with a third party, prepared legal documents, or helped a client represent himself or herself; negotiated a settlement with a third party; represented a client in an administrative agency process or court proceeding; and provided other services beyond legal advice. Data from 8,134 cases were used in the study. The average client helped by one of these cases belonged to a household of three people and reported annual household income of $14,075, meaning that his or her household was well below the federal poverty level.

The study quantifies four economic benefits from cases closed in 2010 by the seven legal aid providers:

  • Legal aid providers won $49.4 million in monetary awards for clients. Examples of monetary awards are child support and alimony, public benefits like Social Security and unemployment insurance, and relief from illegal charges by a landlord or payment to a predatory lender;
  • Legal aid providers won $11.9 million in benefits wholly or partially paid for by the federal government. It is estimated that these awards were associated with $9.3 million in demand for goods and services, $5.4 million in household income, and 172 non‐legal‐aid jobs across Illinois.
  • By preventing or obtaining more time in foreclosures or evictions, obtaining, protecting, or increasing rental subsidies, and assisting clients with other housing issues, legal aid providers avoided $1.9 million in costs to homeless shelters.
  • By obtaining protective orders, divorces, child custody, and legal recognition for noncitizens experiencing abuse, legal aid providers avoided $9.4 million in costs of domestic violence to individuals.

The economic benefits of legal aid in Illinois are likely to be greater than those estimated in this study. The study uses data from only seven of 38 legal aid providers funded by The Chicago Bar Foundation and the Lawyers Trust Fund. Additionally, civil law cases other than those involving monetary awards and federal benefits, homelessness, and domestic violence may have outcomes with economic benefits for legal aid clients and other Illinoisans: by overcoming expulsion of a student from school, legal aid may enable the student to obtain a high school diploma, increasing his or her lifetime earnings; by restoring a client’s drivers license or recovering a repossessed vehicle, legal aid may enable the client to access employment far from home, meeting an employer’s need for labor and contributing to the local economy. Because this study estimates economic benefits of legal aid in only four easy‐to‐monetize areas, it represents an incomplete estimate of the economic benefits of legal aid in Illinois. While a complete inventory of the economic benefits from legal aid is beyond the scope of this study, the estimates it presents can help inform policymakers and other stakeholders as they make decisions about the future of legal aid. 

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment