National Survey of Legal Assistance for the
Results and Implications
Discussion of Survey Highlights
This section presents a detailed review of the five key findings of the survey results, which were summarized in the preceding section of this report and are summarized as:
Issue 1. Data indicate that in general, the aging and legal networks do not work together as effectively as they might to maximize the limited resources available for the delivery of legal assistance to older persons in social and economic need.
Issue 2. Data indicate a shift towards increased use of technology in both intake systems and the delivery of legal assistance. Such a shift raises concerns about whether channels through which the most vulnerable older persons can obtain necessary legal assistance are being preserved.
Issue 3. Data indicate only limited efforts are made to seek additional funding or to pursue all possible funding sources to assist in the delivery of civil legal assistance for older persons.
Issue 4. Data indicate that there has been an increase in the provision of less complex levels of legal assistance for the elderly, creating a concern that vulnerable older persons needing in-depth legal assistance may not be receiving needed service.
Issue 5. Data indicate that the majority of non-LSC providers have not increased the level of their impact and advocacy work. As a result, there may be an overall decrease in impact/elder rights advocacy work on behalf of vulnerable elders given the restricted ability of LSC providers to perform impact work.
Data that support these key findings are presented, and the implications of the findings are discussed below.
An important point to note throughout this report and discussion is that in order to distinguish the different types of providers surveyed (i.e. those that receive Title IIIB funds but not LSC funds from those that receive LSC and Title IIIB funds, etc.), the following definitions are used:
"Title IIIB provider" means a provider that receives Title IIIB funds, but not LSC funds;
"LSC/Title IIIB provider" means a provider that receives both LSC and Title IIIB funds.
"LSC provider" means a provider that receives LSC funds but not OAA Title IIIB funds;
TCSG realizes that these definitions, particularly the definition of a "Title IIIB provider", are more narrow than typically used; however they are necessary for the purpose of clarity of survey results.
Issue 1: Survey data indicate that, in general, the aging and legal networks do not work together as effectively as they might to maximize the limited resources available for the delivery of legal assistance to older persons in social and economic need, raising serious concerns as to whether the needs of older persons are being adequately considered in these times of change.
The Aging Network and LSC State Planning
In an effort to examine and develop comprehensive state-wide systems of delivering legal assistance, LSC has periodically requested, and states have instituted with and without this request, a planning process, via interdisciplinary commissions, statewide legal services conferences, legal needs studies, etc. The purpose of this planning process, for most states, is to have LSC providers work closely with others in their states legal community (i.e. bar associations, judiciary, funders, non-LSC-funded programs, and other interested groups) to develop a statewide plan, while considering changes in areas such as technology, geographic need, and delivery system models, for providing efficient, effective, high-quality legal assistance and referral. The result of these planning processes define to a large extent the states system for delivery of civil legal services to the poor.
As is clear from reviewing the Report on Survey Data by Respondent Type below, LSC providers were more aware of the state-wide LSC planning document than were Title IIIB/LSC providers. While we can only surmise, this may indicate that the Title IIIB staff within LSC programs were not as actively involved in the statewide LSC planning effort as were other LSC personnel. In addition, the aging network as a whole appears to have been largely missing from the LSC planning process. For example, over 88% of the Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and 65% of legal services developers (LSDs) responding indicated that they did not participate in LSC state planning.
The LSC state planning process provides a critical opportunity for the aging network to plan and partner with the legal network. The planning stages provide an invaluable opportunity to raise awareness of the particular legal assistance needs of older persons and to discuss legal assistance delivery mechanisms to meet these needs. This is particularly the case in regard to the planning for increased use of technologies and changes to intake systems, which are a part of many of the statewide LSC planning efforts. It appears that a unique opportunity for joint planning and mutually supportive advocacy for new funding has thus far been missed due to the lack of involvement of AAAs, legal service developers (LSDs), and others in the state offices on aging in the state-wide LSC planning in many areas of the country. As planning and discussions continue in the coming months, this could still be corrected.
State Unit on Aging and Legal Services Developers
A critical link between the aging and legal networks in each state is the legal services developer (LSD). The LSD can prove to be an invaluable asset in facilitating communication and partnerships between the aging and legal networks.
However, as detailed in the section entitled Report on Survey Data by Respondent Type, on average developers spend less than half of their time (46%) on legal services development issues. Furthermore, almost half of the developers have indicated that they have increasingly less time to perform their LSD responsibilities. This decrease in the amount of time devoted to the role of developer is a cause for concern. Developers need to be able to concentrate their efforts on the delivery of legal services for the elderly and spend more time on legal assistance development and elder rights advocacy.
Furthermore, the LSD needs to take a leadership role in bringing the different networks together and identifying ways in which these groups can collaborate. It is essential that the LSD in each state is given the necessary time and resources to develop a comprehensive network devoted to legal assistance for the elderly and elder rights advocacy.
Area Agencies on Aging
Although at the writing of this survey report the Older Americans Act has not yet been reauthorized, there has been a significant amount of discussion over the past several years regarding how the language of this Act may change. One possibility is that legal assistance will be removed as a priority service from the Act; that is, area agencies on aging would not be required to spend a minimum percentage of their Title IIIB funds on the provision of legal assistance for the elderly. If legal assistance is removed as a priority service, it could have significant effects: 55% of AAAs that responded to the survey indicated that if legal assistance were removed as a priority, they expected funding for legal assistance in their state to decrease.
Given this current tenuous situation surrounding legal as a priority service in the OAA, and the fact that a quarter to a third of Title IIIB and Title IIIB/LSC providers indicated that they are not involved in planning and discussions with their AAA, it appears that legal assistance providers are missing an opportunity to discuss with AAAs the negative results that could occur if legal assistance loses its priority status. During this time of uncertainty and change, it is extremely important for legal providers to be communicating and working with their local AAAs, demonstrating the critical importance of legal assistance for the vulnerable elderly. According to the survey results, over 85% of AAAs consider legal assistance extremely or fairly important; it is essential for legal assistance providers to build upon this belief to assure that legal remains a priority service in the Older Americans Act.
Legal Assistance Providers
Just as it is important for legal providers to develop a strong working relationship with the local AAA, it is essential to develop a working relationship with non-Title IIIB legal assistance providers. As detailed in the "Title IIIB Providers" section of this report, 58% of Title IIIB providers indicated they are not involved in discussions with the local LSC provider. This suggests a lack of coordination among two key legal providers that have a responsibility to serve vulnerable, older persons. Furthermore, the Older Americans Act requires Title IIIB providers, if they are not LSC providers, to "coordinate its services with existing Legal Services Corporation projects in the planning and service area in order to concentrate the use of funds provided under this title on individuals with the greatest such need."
While it is clear that a number of Title IIIB and LSC providers have established working relationships, it appears that there is significant room for additional coordination among these providers. Given that funding for legal assistance is increasingly difficult to find, it is imperative that all legal assistance providers, regardless of their funding source, work together to ensure access to legal assistance for the most needy and vulnerable older persons. Communication and coordination among providers should address a range of issues from determining the most effective use of Title IIIB funding to developing protocols for referrals of various types of cases and older clients given the LSC restrictions on permissible activities and the requirement that LSC programs serve only individuals living at no more than 125% of the poverty level.
Issue 2: The survey data indicate a shift towards increased use of technology in both intake systems and the delivery of legal assistance. Such a shift raises concerns about whether channels through which the most vulnerable older persons can obtain necessary legal assistance are being preserved.
It is apparent that over the past few years, legal assistance providers have made changes that affect all aspects of their delivery system. Approximately half of Title IIIB/LSC and LSC providers have downsized their organization. Furthermore, LSC providers indicated that they have experienced staff cuts across the board -- attorneys, paralegals and support staff have all decreased in the past few years.
In addition to changes in staff composition, many providers of all three types also indicated changes in their intake systems; over one-third of the providers receiving Title IIIB and LSC funds indicated that they had recently changed their intake system. Overwhelmingly, changes to intake systems have relied increasingly on technology -- hotlines, intake over the phone, and the use of computers. Finally -- most likely as a result of the above mentioned staff changes -- all three provider types have been less able to meet with clients outside of the office.
The decreased number of out-of-office consultations, in conjunction with increased reliance on phone intake and hotlines, raises concerns about whether the most vulnerable and needy elderly clients will be able to access the legal assistance they require. As providers search for ways to remain viable and to maximize the number of clients served in these times of funding cuts and limited activities, technological efficiencies become a natural alternative. However, those elderly clients that are the most vulnerable -- e.g., nursing home residents; those for whom English is not their first language; those who do not have a telephone; those who are physically unable to use a telephone -- may have difficulty navigating these technological forms of civil legal assistance and may have difficulty understanding and following advice received over the phone.
This is an area in which joint planning by legal providers, legal services developers and AAAs could be particularly valuable since AAAs are generally very familiar with information and referral systems, as well as the use of technology for serving vulnerable elders. In addition, collaboration on the use of technology in the delivery of legal assistance for the elderly could serve to forge stronger relationships between the two networks.
Issue 3: The data indicate that only limited efforts are made to seek additional funding or to pursue all possible funding sources to assist in the delivery of civil legal assistance for older persons.
As detailed in the following section entitled Report on Survey Data by Respondent Type, almost half of all legal assistance providers did not seek additional funding for legal assistance for the elderly over the past two years. This result is particularly surprising since many providers attribute changes in their delivery of legal assistance to recent cuts in OAA and/or LSC funding. Furthermore, providers that did seek additional funding reported a high level of success, indicating that applying for additional funds to serve the elderly may be an effective use of time.
Based upon the survey data, it appears that the majority of providers that do seek additional funds favor specific grants from sources such as private foundations, United Way, or local governments. These funds are typically allocated to a single organization for a specific time period. Beyond these targeted grants, in several states legal assistance providers working with their legal services developers and others have successfully sought funding from their state legislatures. State appropriations generally create a long-term source of funds directed towards civil legal assistance for the poor of all ages.
Obtaining funds from a state legislature is most likely when sought by a coalition of various groups, including members of the legal and aging networks. Legal providers in the following states have recently received funding from their legislatures: Iowa, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington. Each of these states faced different circumstances and legal providers forged unique coalitions to achieve their state funding. For example, in Oklahoma and Washington the aging network played a critical role in securing funds for civil legal assistance from the state legislature; funding which included legal assistance for the elderly.
Issue 4: The data indicate that there has been an increase in the provision of brief service and phone advice, creating a concern that vulnerable older persons needing in-depth legal assistance may not be receiving needed service.
The survey data indicate that the majority of both Title IIIB and Title IIIB/LSC legal assistance providers have neither increased or decreased the provision of more complex levels of service. At the same time, Title IIIB and Title IIIB/LSC providers report an increase in the provision of telephone advice and brief service. Thus, Title IIIB providers as a whole appear to have experienced increases in the provision of legal assistance. Perhaps the Title IIIB funds, expressly targeted to those older persons in social and economic need, compel these providers to perform a range of legal assistance. Similarly, the partnership with AAAs and the aging network inherent in receiving Title IIIB funds may underscore the importance of providing a wide array of service levels for older persons.
For LSC non-Title IIIB providers, survey data indicate an increase in the level of phone and brief advice and a decrease in document preparation and representation/litigation. These data imply a shift away from the more complex types of legal assistance (document preparation and representation/litigation) to the more simple (phone and brief advice). Whether this change in levels of service is directly related to the above mentioned staff and funding changes is unclear. As one respondent stated: "Static and decreased funding means less service per client or less clients."
Regardless, it is important to ensure that the necessary level of service is being provided and is available to the most needy and vulnerable older persons. As with the technological changes to intake systems, too much emphasis on brief services may interfere with the most needy and vulnerable older persons receiving the legal assistance they need. Further, as discussed in Issue 5 below, it may suggest that impact work is being decreased. This raises very serious concerns and underscores the importance of all provider types working with AAAs, legal services developers and others to identify ways of sustaining high impact elder rights work on behalf of the most vulnerable elders.
Issue 5: The data indicate that the majority of Title IIIB providers that do not receive LSC funds and are therefore not subject to LSC restrictions on activities have not increased the level of their impact and elder rights advocacy work. As a result, there may be an overall decrease in impact/elder rights advocacy work on behalf of vulnerable elders given the restricted ability, confirmed by the LSC-funded respondents, of LSC providers to perform impact work.
Survey data show that approximately two-thirds of Title IIIB non-LSC providers indicated that there had been "no change" in the levels of impact work they provided to older persons. While the large majority of Title IIIB providers have not changed their level of impact work, LSC providers-- both those that receive Title IIIB funds and those that do not -- have had to reduce the level of impact work they provide since some of these activities are expressly prohibited by the recent LSC restrictions. While the restrictions on LSC providers do preclude certain types of impact work (i.e. class actions, welfare reform, etc.), there remain areas legitimately within the restrictions where impact work can be done. Nevertheless, over half of the responding LSC-funded providers reported a decreased ability to do impact work on behalf of older persons.
The stagnant level of impact work reported by Title IIIB providers, coupled with the mandated limitations on impact work by all LSC providers, implies an overall decrease in the level of impact work provided on behalf of older persons.
Furthermore, 42% of area agencies on aging indicated that they do not encourage their legal assistance providers to participate in elder rights impact work. As a result, impact work for older persons is often not viewed as a priority for legal assistance providers. Therefore, it is possible that some of the most meaningful types of elder rights advocacy are not being vigorously pursued on behalf of the most vulnerable elderly.
Acknowledgments & Introduction | Methodology | Highlights of Findings & Implications for Action | Discussion of Survey Highlights | Report of Survey Findings by Respondent Type | Conclusion