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Access to Justice

Poor people have no constitutional right to an attorney in non-criminal cases. The alternatives for those who can’t afford a lawyer are stark: face the legal system alone or abandon their legal claims. A home, income in the form of unemployment or disability benefits, parental rights, necessary medical treatments, protection from domestic violence, or safeguards against predatory lending can hang in the balance.

In conjunction with the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, we released a report on the economic benefits of furnishing legal services to low-income citizens in civil cases. These legal services are provided through three organizations: Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, and Pisgah Legal Services.

Some key findings of the report:
  • Legal services attorneys obtained nearly $23 million of federal benefits for their clients in 2012
  • Clients of legal services attorneys won over $8.5 million of housing-related awards in 2012
  • Legal services provided nearly $17 million in cost-savings through eviction prevention, foreclosure prevention, and domestic violence advocacy in 2012
  • The total economic impact of legal aid services in 2012 was $48,775,276, or a 108% return on the money invested into these services.
Read the entire report or the executive summary.

Related articles and editorials by Gene Nichol:

Racial Disparities in Wealth in North Carolina

Our report, Racial Wealth Disparity in North Carolina, highlights the racial and gender wealth gap in the state. Wealth is used less often than income as a measure of economic self-sufficiency, but it is arguably more important. It provides a buffer during times of financial strain, a path to opportunity, a cushion for retirement and a boost for the next generation.

Tracing the Causes of Racial Wealth Disparity is the second report in this series. Issued in spring of 2011, it looks at the many interconnected reasons underlying the gap in wealth accumulation between blacks and whites.

Documenting Poverty, Economic Distress and Challenge in North Carolina

In 2009, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation revisited its community economic development goals and funding strategies. As part of its evaluation, the foundation commissioned this report on the growing levels of poverty in the state. It was presented to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation board in January 2010.
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