Legal aid programs don’t just support the democratic principle of justice for all, bar leaders said Thursday — they also provide $7 in economic impact for every dollar spent.
That’s according to a new study commissioned by the Florida Bar Foundation, which found that $83 million in funding for 33 Florida nonprofit civil legal aid organizations in 2015 produced $600 million in economic impact. Legal aid helps avoid costs associated with catastrophic events such as foreclosure and homelessness, puts dollars into Florida’s economy and buoys the productivity of workers who face legal issues, according to the study.
The foundation aims to bring that information to the forefront with Florida civil legal aid funding at a 10-year low. Because of near-zero interest rates, annual revenue from the foundation’s Interest on Trust Accounts Program has fallen to $5.5 million compared with $43 million a decade ago.
“Clearly, we can’t rely on IOTA programs (alone) to solve the justice gap,” Florida Bar Foundation President Matthew Brenner said Thursday at the American Bar Association’s midyear meeting in Miami.
Florida Bar President Bill Schifino and American Bar Association President-elect Hilarie Bass, co-president of Greenberg Traurig in Miami, voiced their support for civil legal aid as the study was announced. They said they would push to educate business and government leaders about the economic impact of legal aid programs.
“We must be willing to admit openly that we can do better,” Bass said.