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9 Seattle J. Soc. Just. 139 (2010-2011)
Economic and Other Benefits Associated with the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

handle is hein.journals/sjsj9 and id is 153 raw text is: 139

Economic and Other Benefits
Associated with the Provision of Civil Legal Aid
Laura K. Abel & Susan Vignola
In October 2009, California enacted the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel
Act, setting up pilot programs to provide representation in civil cases
concerning basic human needs. The Act's powerful introductory language
includes the following statement:
The fair resolution of conflicts through the legal system offers
financial and economic benefits by reducing the need for many
state services and allowing people to help themselves. There are
significant social and governmental fiscal costs of depriving
unrepresented parties of vital legal rights affecting basic human
needs, particularly with respect to indigent parties, including the
elderly and people with disabilities, and these costs may be
avoided or reduced by providing the assistance of counsel where
parties have a reasonable possibility of achieving a favorable
This legislative finding is supported by a growing body of data
documenting the financial and other societal benefits of the work of civil
legal aid programs, which provide free or low-cost legal assistance to low-
income individuals. This article gathers the results of the existing studies
and also identifies ongoing or planned research projects that may provide
additional information in the near future.
Civil legal aid programs were established in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries by private charities.2 Many more were established in the
late 1960s and early 1970s when the federal government began providing
funding.3 For the past fifteen years, state legislatures and state-based
Interest on Lawyer Trust Account programs have played an increasingly

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