Report shows effectiveness of legal aid services

The Justice for All Commission (JFAC) has issued a new report examining the value of legal aid services throughout Michigan.

The report, titled “Michigan Legal Aid Organizations: Social Economic Impact and Social Return on Investment,” is the result of a JFAC study that examined the immediate and long-term value of legal aid services and compared them to the overall money invested in legal aid throughout the state.

Data shows that legal aid services yielded 669 percent return on investment in 2019 and 2020 — the years covered in the study. More specifically, for every $1 invested in Michigan’s civil legal aid services during those years, they delivered $6.69 in immediate and long-term consequential financial benefits.

Legal aid organizations statewide, the report states, provide services in more than 100 types of legal problems, including family-related concerns — divorce or custody, housing, health care, public benefits (such as Social Security Insurance), consumer protection, and many others.

“Thanks to years of dedicated advocacy by many organizations, including the State Bar, Michigan residents are fortunate to have an array of civil legal aid resources available to help meet their needs,” said state Supreme Court Justice Brian K. Zahra, chair of the JFAC. “The data about the effectiveness of legal aid we have compiled in this vital report will go a long way toward helping us achieve our goal of ensuring 100 percent access to justice in Michigan.”

The study examined the social value of these services in 2019 and 2020 both in terms of immediate value to parties and the long-term consequential value to the community as a whole.

These long-term benefits are substantial and include: savings in community support costs; reductions in community medical care expenses; additional community and income and taxation revenues from benefit programs; savings in housing and support costs for homeless families; and, savings in community law enforcement, court systems, and other government agency costs.

The combined immediate and long-term value was then compared to the money invested in legal aid, resulting in a measurement of the Social Return on Investment (SROI), an internationally standardized and accepted process for measuring and understanding the financial impacts of a social services organization.

Other key report findings:

• In 2019, $28 million in funding for Michigan civil legal aid operations generated more than $213 million in total net value.

• In 2020, for every $1 invested in Michigan legal aid, the people of Michigan received $5.82 of immediate and long-term financial benefits.

• In 2019 and 2020 as a whole, the SROI for Michigan’s legal aid organizations is higher than the comparative values for many other types of social service agencies, and this is based on two key factors:

- Many types of legal services delivered result in significant future costs savings or additional income to the state of Michigan.

- The high SROI is also directly related to the significant number of volunteer hours of legal services delivered by Michigan attorneys.

Looking more closely at several specific services provided by civil legal aid, the study found that over the two years:

• In more than 8,400 cases involving divorce, separation, or annulment, Michigan residents received more than $7.2 million in immediate direct benefits and nearly $80 million in gross long-term consequential
financial benefits.

• In more than 25,000 cases involving housing issues, Michigan residents received more than $19 million in immediate direct benefits and more than $160 million in gross long-term consequential financial benefits.

• In more than 5,300 cases involving public benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance, Michigan residents received more than $2.2 million in immediate direct benefits and nearly $84 million in long-term consequential financial benefits.

“From child custody to housing issues, civil legal cases can often be life-changing, and too many of our friends and neighbors are left to navigate a complicated legal system without adequate resources or information,” said JFAC Vice Chair Angela Tripp of Michigan Legal Help and the Michigan Advocacy Program. “As we work to close the civil justice gap in our own state, the JFAC will use this data to ensure that resources are available where they are most needed.”


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