Module 1: Legal Aid Research

This module helps bridge the gap between what researchers can tell us and what policymakers need to know about how civil legal aid can help individuals and make existing programs more effective. The research briefs in this module provide the evidence base for how legal aid can help children, individuals with disabilities, domestic violence survivors, law enforcement, consumers, returning citizens, and immigrants, among others. 

Each brief begins with research highlights of the curated studies, followed by a narrative overview describing the topic covered within the brief and how civil legal aid makes a difference for those affected (e.g., the state of domestic violence in the U.S. and how civil legal aid makes a difference for survivors), featured federal resources (when available), additional resources, and summaries, methodologies, and key findings of studies. 

We also have an archive of JGP and NLADA’s co-authored newsletter Just Research, which ran from August 2019 to June 2021. The past newsletter editions present research on how legal aid improves outcomes for people and communities, useful data sources, legislative updates, and sources of federal funding that can support legal aid.

Why This Research Matters to Policymakers

A wide range of government programs work at maximum efficiency when people have access to legal services. Employment rates and wages go up and recidivism goes down following legal help to expunge or seal a criminal record. For low-income tenants in Massachusetts facing eviction who had full representation, approximately two-thirds remained in their homes compared to one-third of unrepresented tenants. More survivors of domestic violence break the cycle of violence if they get a restraining order against an abusive partner and legal custody of their children. 

But most Americans don’t know what legal aid is, nor do they identify their problems as having legal solutions. One study found that two-thirds of Americans reported at least one civil justice problem arising from their employment, insurance, housing, or finances, but only 16 percent of them sought out a lawyer. Identifying how civil justice problems can and do have legal solutions increases the likelihood that people will use legal services. 

Worse yet, even when someone who qualifies for free legal aid seeks help, approximately half are turned away because of lack of resourcesEvery state reports being unable to serve all people who seek legal help. 

That lack then becomes a policymaker’s problem, too. As these research briefs show, having access to legal aid can make the difference between successful government programs and ineffective ones.

The Justice in Government Project (JGP) would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their constructive feedback and contributions to their areas of expertise in Module 1: Katherine Alteneder, Sharon Dietrich, Anna Fogel, John Greacen, Storey Dyer Kloman, John Pollock, J.J. Prescott, Erika Rikard, Zoë Root, Shivan Sarin, Sonja Starr, Monica Vaca, and Vivek Sankaran.

We also thank the individuals and organizations who provided their valuable feedback and additions to JGP and NLADA’s co-authored newsletter (August 2019-May 2021), Just Research: Housing: Eric Tars (National Homelessness Law Center) and John Pollock (National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel – NCCRC); Domestic Violence: Deputy Chief Counsel Rebecca Henry (ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence); Bethany Hamilton (National Center for Medical Legal Partnership); Consumers: Ariel Levinson-Waldman (Tzedek DC), Monica Vaca and Patricia Poss (Federal Trade Commission); Housing Update: John Pollock (NCCRC).

See the research briefs and newsletters below for summaries on how legal aid…

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