Economic and Other Benefits Associated with the Provision of Civil Legal Aid
Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall/Winter 2010
21 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2009 Last revised: 8 Mar 2012
Date Written: November 6, 2009
In October 2009, California enacted the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, setting up pilot programs to provide representation in civil cases concerning basic human needs. The Act’s powerful introductory language includes the statement that the “significant social and governmental costs of depriving unrepresented parties of vital legal rights affecting basic human needs ... may be avoided or reduced by providing the assistance of counsel where parties have a reasonable possibility of achieving a favorable outcome.” This legislative finding is supported by a growing body of data documenting the financial and other societal benefits of their work. This article gathers the results of the existing studies and identifies ongoing or planned projects that may provide additional information in the near future. Part I explains that civil legal aid representation can bring federal funding into a state, and can also help people secure benefits, work authorization, and child support. Part II explains that civil legal aid programs help people prevent events that would be harmful to them and expensive for the larger society. Among the findings: legal services for domestic violence victims reduce domestic violence rates and the associated law enforcement costs; representation for parents in child welfare cases keeps families together and reduces the time children spend in foster care; medical legal partnerships for clients with medical and legal needs improve clients’ health and generate revenue for hospitals; and civil legal help for children with criminal records reduces rearrest rates, which in turn lowers law enforcement costs. Finally, Part III draws some lessons learned from the research, and suggests directions for future research.
Keywords: civil legal aid, Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, government benefits, work authorization, child support, legal representation, civil gideon, civil right to counsel, right to counsel, legal services
JEL Classification: I3, K1, K4, I18, J18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation