As members of the Young Lawyers Division, we understand the human impact of helping low-income Floridians receive legal aid. We now have powerful evidence that getting involved in pro bono work and supporting legal aid will also benefit the economy in our local community and statewide.
A new study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation found that every dollar invested in civil legal aid organizations by the Foundation, donors and other sources resulted in more than $7 in economic impacts in 2015.
The study, performed by The Resource for Great Programs, found that investments in civil legal aid resulted in $600 million in total economic benefits, including more than $264 million in income for Floridians obtained with the help of legal aid and pro bono attorneys.
The direct dollar impacts come from sources such as Social Security and Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, veterans’ and other federal benefits, as well as child and spousal support, unemployment compensation and wages. This income generates an additional $274.8 million in impacts resulting from the economic multiplier effect as that income flows into Florida communities like ours.
In addition, the savings for communities are substantial, with about $60.4 million of costs avoided statewide from positive trends such as reduced homelessness, fewer police calls and reduced burden on the court system. Avoided costs from domestic violence alone account for $6.9 million in savings.
The extraordinary findings are impressive and demonstrate the importance of getting involved in legal aid as a young lawyer.
Unfortunately, total funding for civil legal aid in Florida is at a 10-year low.
Statewide, The Florida Bar Foundation provided $9.5 million in civil legal aid funding during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, a small fraction of the funding it was able to provide at the beginning of this decade. Because of the near-zero interest rates since the Great Recession and the effect on revenue from Florida’s Interest on Trust Accounts Program, the Foundation’s grants to civil legal aid organizations statewide are down by about 80 percent since 2010 and are expected to fall even further. And total legal aid funding from all sources in Florida has fallen from nearly $100 million in 2010 to $83 million in 2015.
The Young Lawyers Division is working with the Foundation to find innovative ways to help fill the gap.
The YLD’s Youth on Solid Ground program provides training to enable lawyers to assist low-income families with disabled children in guardianship matters. Offered in collaboration with The Florida Bar Foundation and the Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association, the program includes free training seminars offering CLE credit.
With a temporary relative custody order in place, the child’s extended family member, often a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling, will have the legal ability to perform basic parental functions, such as enrolling the child in school, meeting with teachers, consenting to basic medical care, and meeting with medical providers. For more information, visit Youth on Solid Ground here.
As lawyers we alone can contribute legal services to those in need, and we have a unique understanding of the importance of civil legal aid to our community. We already knew the satisfaction we get from touching the life of a low-income family. Now we know the economic ripple effects that extend throughout our community when we do.
By supporting legal aid and The Florida Bar Foundation and providing pro bono services we can ensure that our community will continue to thrive and be the kind of prosperous and caring community we want it to be.