Recent Studies

Legal Aid in Illinois

Click here to learn about the dollars legal aid services reap for low income clients and save the state.

Legal Aid in Illinois – Selected Social and Economic Benefits

Equal access to the justice system is a fundamental principle of American democracy. The U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and due process in the courts to all Americans—not just those who can afford a lawyer. By providing legal counsel to those who cannot afford it, legal aid helps ensure that all Americans receive equal protection and due process, and that the laws passed by Congress and state and local governments are applied equally.

Across Illinois, nonprofit legal aid providers offer free legal advice, representation, and other legal services to low‐income, disadvantaged Illinoisans who have civil legal problems and cannot afford counsel. These legal aid providers afford access to the justice system for clients facing eviction and foreclosure, domestic violence, termination of vital benefits, and other threats to the health and safety of themselves and their families. Legal aid may prevent clients and their families from becoming homeless, protect clients from domestic violence, and ensure that clients and their families receive benefits that help them meet basic needs. For many clients, obtaining these services may mean the difference between hunger and food on the table, entering a homeless shelter and being stably housed, and abuse and physical safety.

Methodology Report

Click here to read the Methodology Report.

Services provided by legal aid organizations range from educating clients about their rights and responsibilities to extended legal representation to resolve complex problems. Low‐income, disadvantaged people may struggle to understand their legal rights and obligations. By educating clients and helping them to resolve legal problems before courts, administrative bodies, and other settings, legal aid providers may prevent legal problems from escalating, leveling the playing field and enabling vulnerable people to participate more fully in society.

The primary outcomes legal aid achieves are ensuring that low‐income, disadvantaged people understand their rights; have the assistance needed to fairly and efficiently resolve their legal problems; and feel they are treated fairly and equally under the laws that govern their particular situations. In the course of achieving these outcomes, legal aid also provides clients and other Illinoisans with tangible economic benefits. These include monetary awards that help low‐income clients meet their financial obligations; increased demand for goods and services, household income, and employment from federal benefits cases; and costs of harm avoided from homelessness and domestic violence.

To view the Legal Services Study, click here. For the Methodology Report, click here.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Services to
Self-Represented Litigants

The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) supports the provision of legal services to persons representing themselves in court without an attorney.  Grants from IEJF support legal assistance provided via a website accessed through computers located in certain courthouses and libraries in Illinois.  The foundation also provides funds to attorneys that give free counsel to individuals in some courts in Cook County.  IEJF asked Rob Paral and Associates (RPA) to evaluate the usefulness of the web-based and attorney assistance, and to assess users’ satisfaction with these services.

To view the entire study report, click here.

Accessing Justice Through Mediation

Accessing Justice Through Mediation: Pathways for Poor and Low-Income Disputants

In 2007, Resolution Systems Institute (formerly the Center for Analysis of Alternative Dispute Resolution Systems) released Accessing Justice through Mediation: Pathways for Poor and Low-Income Disputants. The study found that Illinois is now poised to develop mediation as a path to justice for poor and low-income disputants. Illinois is ready to move from a circuit-by-circuit, county-by-county approach to a systematic one in which mediation is a widely available tool for the types of disputes experienced by poor and low-income residents and others throughout the state. The study also found that mediation and legal services should no longer function as mutually exclusive paths, but instead, should function together as a joint system to serve low-income disputants.
To view the entire study report, click here.

Investing in Justice

Investing in Justice: A Framework for Effective Recruitment and Retention of Illinois Legal Aid Attorneys

In 2006, the Chicago Bar Foundation and the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice released Investing in Justice: A Framework for Effective Recruitment and Retention of Illinois Legal Aid Attorneys. The study found that almost half of Illinois legal aid attorneys planned to leave their positions in the next three years, due in large part to escalating law school debt and other financial challenges.

As legal aid organizations find it harder and harder to retain and recruit qualified staff, low-income Illinoisans are left with fewer places to turn for legal help. The study found that losing 10% of the legal aid attorney workforce in one year can result in nearly 10,000 fewer legal aid clients across Illinois being served.

To view the entire study report, click here.

The Legal Aid Safey Net

The Legal Aid Safety Net

In 2003, the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Illinois Bar Foundation and the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois released The Legal Aid Safety Net: A Report on the Legal Needs of Low-Income Illinoisans. It was the first in-depth study of Illinois’ legal aid system in more than 15 years.

Through a statewide telephone survey of 1,645 low-income households, the study found that in 2003 alone, low-income people faced more than 1.3 million civil legal problems, involving issues such as domestic violence, divorce, child custody, evictions, mortgage foreclosures or the physical and financial abuse of the elderly. However, in more than 80 percent of those cases, individuals and families faced the problem without legal assistance.

Among the key findings:

  • There were only the equivalent of 280 full-time legal aid lawyers in the entire state – a ratio of one legal aid lawyer for every 4,752 legal problems faced by the low-income Illinoisans.
  • While the situation was dire in Cook County, geography made delivering legal aid services even more difficult in the rest of the state, where a total of 84 attorneys were charged with providing legal assistance to nearly 400,000 low-income residents in 101 counties.
  • Legal aid “hotlines,” which serve as the first point of contact for legal aid programs in many parts of the state, reported that they were able to respond to less than one third of the calls they receive.
  • Low-income Illinoisans had legal assistance for only one out of every six legal problems they encountered in 2003.
  • 69 percent of domestic violence victims did not have access to legal assistance.
  • Parents faced child custody disputes without representation in 63 percent of cases.
  • Three quarters of those facing mortgage foreclosures did not have an attorney.

To view the entire study report, click here.