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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

How legal aid boosts Minnesota’s economy

The MSBA recently collaborated with the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition to create the state’s first-ever economic impact report for civil legal aid in Minnesota. The report shows that for every dollar spent on civil legal aid programs, the return on investment is $3.94.

The report, based on 2014 data from civil legal aid programs around the state, finds that core legal services provided by the programs create significant savings for local communities and the entire state and bring significant revenue to Minnesota.

Minnesota’s legal aid programs helped 48,344 low-income families and individuals in 2014 and generated $133 million in revenue. This includes critical income and benefits for clients in housing, disability services, consumer protection, senior and youth law, and family law. Programs brought to the state $3.8 million in new federal benefits and $5.6 million in non-governmental income. They also protected $4.4 million in federal benefits and $13 million in non-governmental income. Low-income individuals spend nearly every dollar they receive, so each of the dollars generated or protected on behalf of clients is spent directly in Minnesota communities, which benefits state and local economies.

Civil legal aid programs also benefit the economy by helping the community avoid the high costs associated with two major legal issues. First, civil legal aid programs help clients stay safe from domestic violence. Each incident of domestic violence carries significant costs—over $3,800 in medical costs and lost work. In 2014, civil legal aid programs helped 1,923 client households win a legal action involving domestic violence. Assuming each successful legal action prevented even one incident of domestic violence, the programs avoided over $7 million in costs to communities in Minnesota. Second, homelessness is estimated to cost Minnesotans $53 per day in shelter costs. Legal aid programs successfully avoided eviction for 2,288 families and individuals in 2014. Factoring in the average length of time spent in a shelter, civil legal aid programs helped avoid $4.1 million in shelter costs, not including other costs associated with homelessness—such as emergency room visits, correctional facility costs, and lost wages.

Civil legal aid programs leverage volunteer help from lawyers in their communities, which further enhances the value of the programs. Lawyers often volunteer their time representing low-income clients in court and providing free legal advice to low-income clients at legal clinics and through online pro bono programs. Civil legal aid programs make these opportunities possible by recruiting, training, and supporting volunteers. In 2014, lawyers provided nearly $22 million in free legal services through civil legal aid organizations in the state. Read the full report at: mylegalaid.org/downloads/Economic_Impact_Report.pdf

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