Regional non-profit law firm improves stability among the poor, study shows
Nonprofit law office finds clients who sought help felt more stable
By Graig Graziosi
Clients of Community Legal Aid organizations throughout Northeast Ohio have reported increases in stability in their lives, even close to a decade after being assisted by the organization, according to a new study.
Community Legal Aid is a nonprofit law office with locations throughout Northeast Ohio that specializes in helping individuals with legal problems who can’t afford to hire attorneys.
The study, compiled by the Center for Community Solutions in Cleveland, was commissioned to determine what, if any, long-term impact the service had on its clients.
Overall, the study found that clients who sought help with their legal issues felt more stable in a variety of ways once they’d found some resolution to their problems.
Emily Campbell, a researcher for the Center for Community Solutions, prepared the study.
“What we found surprising was how many people attributed improvement in their lives to work that Legal Aid undertook, even if that work was done a decade ago,” Campbell said. “We also were surprised by the number of respondents who said they’d not only seen improvements in the segment of their life directly impacted by their legal issue, but also in other, unrelated aspects of their lives.”
Campbell said that healthy stability, as used in the framework of the study, wasn’t measuring a person’s overall health, but rather the consistency of the conditions in their lives.
For many respondents, just having a resolution to their issues was enough to grant them relief.
“It didn’t matter if a case went their way or not, just having someone to help them with a big problem they were facing and getting some resolution helped people really move on with their lives,” Campbell said.
Data also suggested that solving a legal issue improves stability in the parts of a person’s life that are both directly impacted and totally unrelated to the problem.
According to one example in the study, “research indicates that financial stability impacts nonfinancial aspects of an individual’s life. Participants who worked with Financial Empowerment Centers to open bank accounts, improve credit, reduce debt and increase savings reported a reduction in stress, improved emotional health, higher confidence and self-efficacy and a development of decision-making and negotiating skills.”
Steve McGarrity, the executive director of Community Legal Aid, said the results of the study confirmed for him that Community Legal Aid was succeeding in its stated mission.
“Our mission is that through legal advocacy, we transform lives for people and give them opportunities to determine their own future,” McGarrity said. “The interrelatedness of the particular legal issues we help clients with and the variety of stability areas the study looked at reflect that we’re trying to help whole people and not a particular legal problem.”