Richard Zorza has another great post up on his “Access to Justice” blog calling attention to the Public Welfare Foundation’s attempts to show how civil legal aid helps people climb out of poverty. In it, he gives a shout out to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) for its most recent “Economic Benefits” report.
The report, which MLAC compiles annually, shows how much money civil legal aid saves the state in by generating new revenue and saving costs in benefits (such as shelter for homeless families) that might otherwise be paid if not for the assistance provided to families in crisis by civil legal aid organizations. (Last fiscal year, savings totaled $29 million.)
Zorza writes that he hopes the Public Welfare Foundation’s initiative will quantify the poverty-abating impact of civil legal aid:
I also hope that [this effort] will find a way to think about longer term and broader impacts of such interventions — i.e. what is easy to measure is the first order effect such as benefits won, homelessness prevented, etc., but what is much harder to assess and calculate is the extent to which these short term benefits actually impact even on the beneficiaries’ long term poverty status, let alone aggregate poverty. (For example, does intervention in family support merely move poverty around, or do we see an aggregate decrease — I expect so, but the case needs to be made.)
For just this sort of data measurement, we would encourage a look at a study from 2003, published in Contemporary Economic Policy, that found that access to civil legal aid reduced incidences of domestic violence.
From that report: “Because legal services help women with practical matters (such as protective orders, custody, and child support) they appear to actually present women with real, long-term alternatives to their relationships.”