Putting a dollar value to an object can be difficult, but determining what a service is worth can be nearly impossible.
Even so, the Coalition for Court Access, with support from the Indiana Bar Foundation, commissioned a study to assess the financial benefits that come from legal aid services.
Community Services Analysis LLC, based in Arizona, examined 12 separate legal services agencies around Indiana and calculated the organizations’ social return on investment. The group dug into the financials for the year 2017 and concluded that for every $1 invested in Indiana legal aid that year, the state received $6.70 in immediate and long-term financial benefits.
SROI measures both the value of the service delivered and the long-term value of the results of the services. Community Services found a total of 19,353 services were provided by legal aid organizations in Indiana in 2017. These services had a net direct value of $12.9 million and a long-term consequential value of $83.6 million.
In all, the net value of the services was $96.5 million. Calculated against the $14.4 million in tax-based funding for Indiana civil legal aid organizations, the social impact return on investment was 670 percent.
The bulk of the legal services were provided to Hoosiers with family law issues, the report found. During 2017, Indiana legal aid agencies gave assistance in 7,999 legal matters resulting in $4.5 million in immediate gross direct financial benefits and $50.2 million in gross long-term consequential financial benefits.
More than half of the family law matters were in the areas of custody and visitation, and divorce, separation and annulment. Custody and visitation cases totaled 2,439, bringing a gross direct value of $1.5 million and a gross long-term impact of $20 million. Likewise, divorce, separation and annulment cases totaled 2,748 and had a gross direct value of $2.1 million plus a gross long-term value of $18.4 million.
The gross financial breakdown of the other issues Indiana legal aid providers covered is as follows:
• Housing: handled 2,672 cases resulting in $1.2 million in direct benefits and $9.9 million in long-term benefits.
• Healthcare: assisted in 52 legal matters with a $28,000 immediate benefit and $247,000 long-term benefit.
• Public benefits: closed 772 legal matters bringing $433,000 in immediate benefits and $3.8 million in long-term benefits.
• Consumer protection: closed 2,000 legal matters resulting in $1.8 million immediate benefit and $1.9 million long-term benefits.
• Other community issues (including employment, immigration, expungements, and powers of attorney): closed 5,056 legal matters resulting in $2.3 million immediate direct benefits and $18.5 million long-term benefits.
The legal service agencies included in the study provided about 97 percent of all legal aid in the Indiana. The agencies that were part of the study included Indiana Legal Services, Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, Northwest Indiana Volunteer Attorneys and Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, Inc.•