We began our search with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s excellent research repository, studies identified in the U.S. Department of Justice Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit and First Annual Report to the President, Google Scholar using keyword searches, and database searches, including Public Administration Abstracts, JSTOR, Sociological Abstracts, Social Services Abstracts, and Academic Search Premier. We also reached out to leaders in a variety of substantive areas for their suggestions about sources to include. We also used the bibliographies and references to other research studies, which we gathered through government publications and peer-reviewed research. 

Most cited studies were published in peer-reviewed academic journals and law reviews. Those not included in peer-reviewed academic journals and law reviews are reports and evaluations by organizations such as the Urban Institute, NPC Research, the Brookings Institution, and reports commissioned by a bar association or the courts. While most studies are recent, some are from earlier decades and are included either because they are seminal works or because of the paucity of relevant research on the topic. With only a few exceptions, these briefs do not cover legal needs assessments or return on investment (ROI) studies. The American Bar Association has helpfully collected these studies

Research

Research brief (last updated July 30, 2019)

Approximately 75 million Americans, or about one-in-three adults, have a criminal record and almost half of U.S. children have one parent with a criminal record. Those with criminal records face significant barriers to employment, with an unemployment rate of approximately 27 percent. Having a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback for an interview by 50 percent for whites and 72 percent for African Americans. Some of these criminal records do not need to be following people the way that they are, based on the laws on the books. Legal aid can help those who are eligible for expungement and set-asides receive them and assist with reentry.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

12.6 percent of Americans have at least one disability and may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). However, the process for filing a disability claim and asking for a reconsideration if rejected can be difficult without a lawyer’s assistance. When individuals with disabilities have access to legal representation during this process, the likelihood that they will receive benefits increases and their SSI allowance is often greater.

Research brief (last updated July 30, 2019)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 36.4 percent of women and 33.6 percent of men in the US have been the victim of intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence (DV). Individuals who have experienced DV display a multitude of legal needs. They may require assistance with filing protection orders, custody issues, housing, identity theft, and reducing barriers to keeping a job. Legal aid can help in each of these areas.

Read the JGP and NLADA's handout about how legal aid helps those affected by the opioid crisis (last updated December 2019)

Among the nearly 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to opioids. Every day, 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for opioid overdoses. The total economic burden is estimated to be $504 billion, $28.9 billion of which is due to health care costs. Including those in recovery and their extended family members, more than 11 million Americans are affected by the opioid crisis, with 2.1 million addicted. They need our help.

Policymakers know the current epidemic requires a multi-disciplinary response that includes law enforcement, doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, social workers, and case managers. But civil legal aid providers are also essential partners in solving one of America’s most pressing public health issues.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

There are high social and monetary costs associated with missed instructional time, suspension, expulsion, and drop out. Having access to self-help documents and legal advocacy can assist parents with receiving help for a child’s behavioral issues or overcoming procedural barriers to receiving benefits like free school meals. Child support, in comparison to other sources of income, has been shown to have one of the strongest effects on child educational outcomes. Legal aid services can help ensure that child support orders correctly reflect the ability to pay, increasing the likelihood that parents will make the payments.

Research brief (last updated October 14, 2019)

Between 10 to 15 percent of older Americans report experiencing elder abuse, though tragically its true prevalence is likely much higher. Elder abuse can take many forms, including neglect, financial exploitation, psychological or emotional abuse, or physical and sexual abuse. Abuse is more common in some subpopulations; for example, approximately 47 percent of those with dementia experience abuse. Legal aid can help with setting up powers of attorney, working with social services, and assisting with protective orders.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

On any given day, there are approximately 443,000 children in foster care. After spending time in foster care, children often experience emotional, social, and behavioral issues. When legal aid can address underlying causes of children entering foster care, like abuse and housing insecurity, it can prevent children from entering foster care in the first place. When children do enter court-supervised out-of-home care, studies show that for parents who have legal representation, their children experience less time spent in foster care, faster rates to adoption and guardianship, and increased parental presence in court.

Research brief (last updated November 12, 2019)

As of 2017, 27.7 million people (compared to more than 44 million in 2013) remain uninsured. Access to justice has been directly linked to health outcomes, where those with less access have been shown to have poorer health. Accessing legal aid services can improve access to healthcare, reduce medical debt, and improve health outcomes. Having access to and using legal aid services can reduce stress, improve the health of children, and assist vulnerable populations, like LGBTQ+ seniors.

Research brief (last updated July 30, 2019)

Evictions are landlord-initiated moves to expel tenants from their homes. Evictions are a leading cause of homelessness, and tenants often do not know their legal rights or have legal representation in eviction hearings. When they do have access to legal representation, they are more likely to remain housed and have their children stay in school. Legal representation can also help them improve housing conditions, such as reducing mold and other housing code and safety violations.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

In 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 1,923 criminal suspects were referred to U.S. attorneys for human-trafficking offenses, an increase of 41 percent since the last report. Of them, 729 were prosecuted. These numbers represent only a fraction of the problem and the Human Trafficking Hotline reports more survivors reaching out in search of resources each year. Human trafficking survivors often require assistance with safety planning, securing housing, accessing medical and mental health care, identifying appropriate educational resources to find employment opportunities, reducing the barriers to employment, and accessing benefits. Civil legal aid providers can help trafficking survivors access resources like housing, healthcare, employment, and benefits.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that law enforcement agencies include legal aid agencies among their partners to increase trust and keep communities safe. Legal aid can work with law enforcement in several ways, from reducing domestic violence, to protecting consumers, reducing recidivism, and keeping children in school.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 1.7 percent of the U.S. population are American Indian, Alaska Native alone or in combination. They also experience high rates of poverty. The median household income for Native Americans was $16,450 less than that of the U.S. Studies have shown that Native Americans often experience significant legal issues and have a multitude of unmet legal needs, including employment-related problems, and problems with rental housing, law enforcement, healthcare, and education.

Research brief (last updated July 30, 2019)

In civil proceedings, individuals are more likely than not to self-represent. Strikingly, in family law proceedings, 62 percent of individuals self-represent and in domestic violence cases, 80 percent of victims self-represent. Self-help services, a form of legal aid, have been found to significantly improve pro se litigants’ outcomes in certain settings. These services can increase access to information, promote public trust, increase court efficiency, and save money.

Research brief (last updated September 26, 2019)

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that on any given night, 37,878 veterans are homeless. The most recent Project CHALENG survey (2019) found that tor male and female homeless veterans, four of their top twelve unmet needs involve legal assistance. Studies on medical-legal partnerships have shown that embedding lawyers in medical settings can help veterans receive benefits due to them.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

Debt, identity theft, and consumer finance are some of the most common legal issues Americans face. While common, more than 75 percent of those facing consumer finance issues do not seek legal help. Studies show that when alleged debtors receive legal representation, they are less likely to experience a default judgement.

Research brief (last updated August 8, 2019)

The Executive Office for Immigration Review reports that over 30 percent of the individuals in pending immigration proceedings were without legal representation in 2018. This figure drops to 14 percent for individuals in detention. When immigrants have legal representation, they are more likely to be released from detention and seek and obtain relief or termination of a case. When children have legal representation in immigration court, 73 percent remain in the U.S., compared to 15 percent of those who have no legal representation. Immigrants have better outcomes at every stage in the immigration court process when they have legal representation.

Just Research Newsletter

No. 1 - Reentry (August 2019)

No. 2 - Veterans (September 2019)

No. 3 - Opioids (October 2019)

No. 4 - Foster care (November 2019)

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