Legal Aid Yields a Strong Return on Investment

legal-aid-illinois-economic-benefits-coverA well-funded legal aid system helps to ensure that our justice system is fair and efficient for all, regardless of income. Like us, you’re probably thinking that’s all the reason anyone would need. But then there’s the icing on the cake. Studies from more than 25 states, including Illinois, have repeatedly shown that it is a good financial investment as well: every dollar spent to support legal aid results in even greater economic savings and benefits to people, government, and the community.

In 2012, the CBF partnered with the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation and other partners to commission a study to inform policymakers and other stakeholders about the tangible economic benefits of legal aid. An independent organization, the Social Impact Research Center, conducted the study and prepared the report, Legal Aid in Illinois: Selected Social and Economic Benefits.

The study found that legal aid in Illinois produces an almost 2:1 economic return on investment. But even that strong return is likely to be much higher in reality, as the study uses data only from a limited sampling of seven organizations and case types. This limited sample alone produced economic benefits of more than $70 million in a single year in Illinois.

Some examples of the return on investment in the study included:

  • Domestic Violence
    By obtaining protective orders, divorces, child custody and legal recognition for noncitizens experiencing abuse, a sampling of legal aid organizations avoided $9.4 million in the costs of domestic violence to individuals.
  • Homelessness
    By assisting clients with foreclosures, evictions or other housing issues, a sampling of legal aid organizations avoided $1.9 million in costs related to homelessness, primarily the costs to homeless shelters.

The study has been a powerful tool in advocating for funding and support for legal aid at the federal, state and local government levels. And together, the Illinois study and similar studies from other states have been persuasive with lawmakers and policymakers that federal funding for legal aid through the Legal Services Corporation is a solid economic investment. All of these studies demonstrate that a relatively modest investment in legal aid returns its value many times over.