RD28 - Legal Services Corporation of Virginia Report to the Commonwealth and the General Assembly On Work of Virginia’s Legal Aid Programs FY 2017-2018

Executive Summary:

More than 69,058 low-income Virginians were directly benefited. The civil legal aid programs funded by Legal Services Corporation of Virginia (LSCV) enabled low-income Virginians to address critical legal issues directly affecting their families, homes, income, jobs and access to vital services such as education and health care.

LSCV distributed $11.97 million to legal aid programs. In FY 2017-2018, LSCV provided grants to a statewide network of non-profit organizations, including nine local legal aid programs and a statewide support center. Collectively these programs served every community in Virginia via 35 offices located strategically throughout the state. This funding came from the Virginia General Assembly in the form of general revenue and special filing fee appropriations, and from the Virginia “IOLTA" (Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts) program that LSCV began administering in 1995. Additional funding was provided from a grant emanating from the Justice Department’s settlement with the Bank of America for mortgage foreclosure improprieties.

The state and IOLTA dollars distributed by LSCV leveraged additional millions of dollars from other sources. LSCV-funded legal aid programs received an additional $18.5 million from a variety of sources, including the federal Legal Services Corporation, local governments, foundation grants, bar associations and community fundraising efforts.

The results achieved by LSCV-funded programs helped everyone in Virginia.

Producing $110.6 million in economic benefits. The work of legal aid advocates brought millions of federal dollars into Virginia that would otherwise have been lost to local economies. These dollars provided over 1,400 jobs and, with additional savings from avoidance of such costly social problems as homelessness, yielded a net return of $3.58 for every dollar invested.

Enhancing family stability and safety. Legal aid in domestic violence cases enabled survivors to lead more productive lives, reduced crime and increased the likelihood that affected children would not become victims or perpetrators of violence in the future.

Preventing homelessness. Through successful advocacy that prevented eviction and home foreclosure, legal aid lawyers kept families in their homes and reduced the social and economic costs of emergency shelter and other services for the homeless.

Making other institutions work better. Lawmakers referred constituents to legal aid for legal help. Courts relied on legal aid to help people navigate the legal system and address legal problems before they enter the court system.

Empowering people to seek fair solutions through legal channels. In addition to representing clients, legal aid advocates reached over 11,890 people through pro se (self-help) programs, distribution of legal education materials, and preventative legal education efforts. These results empowered the people who used these programs to better understand and act upon their legal rights and responsibilities as tenants, parents, employees, spouses, and consumers.

Partnering with other organizations to solve community-wide problems. Legal aid programs worked with private law firms, the courts and more than 100 agencies across the state that served low-income Virginians. In FY 2017-2018, private lawyers completed 3,137 cases for legal aid clients and contributed 14,626 hours valued at $2.2 million through pro bono programs operated by LSCV-funded legal aid organizations.

Maximizing bang for the buck. Virginia legal aid programs promoted high productivity and quality through participation in LSCV’s statewide evaluation and outcome measurement systems that have been in place for more than a decade. Legal aid programs participated in a statewide student loan repayment program implemented by LSCV in 2008, fostering quality and efficiency by minimizing the loss of experienced attorneys who may otherwise seek higher-paying jobs to cover debt service on their student loans.

The Justice Gap:

Legal aid is effective. Yet, in FY 2017-2018, legal aid advocates could help only a fraction of those in need...because of increased demand for services during the recession of 2007-2015 and cuts to three of legal aid’s major sources of funding: IOLTA, filing fee revenue and federal grants. Due to historically low interest rates, annual IOLTA funding has declined by $4 million since FY 2007-2008. The revenue from the legal aid filing fee add-on has declined by $1.4 million since 2009. In addition, census-based cuts in federal funding resulted in a loss of almost $1.2 million for Virginia legal aid programs over that same time period. While LSCV’s general revenue appropriation increased incrementally during the recession, cuts from these other sources far outstripped those increases. Every dollar spent on legal aid in FY 2017-2018 yielded an economic return far exceeding the investment, yet today’s legal aid funding level is far less than it was three decades ago. Until the resources have been found to bridge the gap between the need for legal assistance and the capacity to provide it, “Equal Justice Under the Law" will remain an empty promise for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.