What Does Civil Legal Aid Actually Cost?

As we wait to learn whether the Massachusetts House of Representatives will take up the governor’s amendments to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget next week, we are grappling with a different set of budget numbers.  In connection with the work of the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts we are trying to determine exactly how much money is being spent on civil legal aid statewide.

This seems simple and straightforward. But this could not be further from the truth….it’s taking hours of research, compiling lists, and scouring the annual reports of civil legal aid grantees. We now have a list of 137 civil legal aid grantees compiled from the following funding sources: the Massachusetts Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), the Massachusetts Bar Foundation (MBF) and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).  Some grantees receive state funds, others get federal money, and still others receive private money raised at events like the Boston Bar Foundation’s Adams Benefit.

Grantees self-report revenue and expenses on an annual basis.  Their reports vary in format as much as the types of legal work these grantees actually provide.  Because not every civil legal aid organization on our list performs strictly legal services, our task is even more complicated.  Many excellent providers of civil legal aid also provide a variety of other services that are essential to the community. The revenue number that these providers report will therefore reflect a much larger number than just revenue spent on civil legal services. We hope that direct phone calls to these providers and further research will help us to better understand the amount they spend solely on civil legal aid.

As we continue to gather the facts and build a database to help us analyze information, the BBA’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts meets this week for the second time.  Determining what is currently being spent in terms of civil legal aid dollars is just one piece of the puzzle.  In addition to getting a handle on what is being spent currently on civil legal aid in Massachusetts, we need to determine the number of individuals that are being turned away from legal aid organizations. Finally we need to be able to get a firm grasp of what it would cost to meet the current needs of those eligible for civil legal aid.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
Comments are disabled for this blog. To submit your comments please e-mail issuespot@bostonbar.org