The needs assessment really sought to determine whether justice is the same in substance and availability regardless of economic status. The results indicate that in Nevada it is not.
Much of the work regarding assessing access to Justice in the last decade came about in response to the ABA study. Findings at that time were considered conservative in their determination that only 1 in 5 legal needs were resolved with the help of the bar or a legal aid provider.
Ten years later, the legal service corp again posed the question, this time there was an analysis of state needs assessments and found that not much had changed, again 4 out of 5 low-income Americans have unmet legal needs.
From both studies, same generalities could and were drawn.
In addition-most do not know they are eligible or that help is available. Those who do know doubt they will be helped and the key informant interviews supported this in that providers have such limited resources that they must prioritize their efforts based on funding requirements and their mission. This means that across the state there are unique characteristics that can make the difference in what sort of justice is achieved. This is dependent on where you live, what resources are available, what your legal status is etc.
A lack of access to justice in Nevada has significant social and economic implications. For example, the Review Journal reported in 2007 that for FY 04-05, only 46% of child support was collected, our state rank was 49 th in the amount of support collected, 45 th of cases not current. Nancy Ford, Welfare Administrator noted that “Part of the problem is that Nevada’s system relies heavily on legal procedures. Over and over in focus groups, clients told us of appearing for a child support case without representation. When child support is not provided, a family uses their limited resources however they must to support the child. This can mean a greater burden on the systems that provide assistance to families including TANF and WIC.
Gene Kroupe and Associates worked with the ATJC to frame the survey. There were some of the same issues like not all residents have phones, or no person under age 18 100 in rural Nevada. Half had children. Categories in the survey were housing, family, employment, disability, health or mental health, benefits, consumer or financial, ethnic disparities.
Targeted 2 groups. 68% had a need, number of categories. Context to make sense of the study behind the telephone survey
One in five. Those with children more likely to have a need. Age 18 to 34 most likely but at least 50% in each age group.
Again, the 2.4 categories per average says it is not a simple case or matter but that clients present with complex set of issues and often do not know how to navigate the system. Often, they may show up in your office with multiple matters and because they have waited, the matter may need immediate resolution. Key informants told us that regarding Consumer/Finance matters, the need is so great that we could create a whole division to address these needs and would still not be able to meet the demand.
Here you see the list of types of civil legal needs and while finance is first, because most people report having multiple needs, it is often a combination of problems. One focus group participant was receiving services for bankruptcy because her husband had taken a number of credit cards out in her name and she had thousands of dollars in debt, was facing eviction and wondered if she should divorce him or if that would just mean she would have all the financial responsibility with no recourse to resolve the issues.
Las Vegas participants indicated that they were more likely to experience housing issue Those with children are more likely to have housing issues. Reno is more likely to know about resources. BOS is least likely to know about resources. A quarter of all telephone survey respondents have family issues. Minorities more likely to experience employment-related issues.
Females are more likely to use self-help. Younger females are more likely to use various means: internet, hotlines. Hispanic are more likely to use a friend or family. This is likely a cultural difference based on language or status.
The first choice for most people in receiving assistance would be through a legal-aid office. Less than half would use the internet or a non-lawyer advocate. Two-thirds of lowest income would be willing to pay a reduced fee. Only one-third were aware of any assistance. Not surprisingly, those persons were significantly more satisfied if they had legal representation. People talked about being treated differently if they did not have representation and noted that they felt less respected and listened to by the court.
Larger growth is seen in the senior population as a proportion of the population than any other group. This is a fast growing subpopulation that can be very vulnerable and will have greater needs as they continue to age. In focus groups, we learned that this population is less comfortable talking about legal needs, finances or end of life decisions. None of the seniors we talked to had any legal documents related to end of life decisions and didn’t know how to go about obtaining them.
2.8 million residents in Nevada in 2007. this means that 290,000 were living in poverty and at least a substantial subset of that group was likely to have a civil legal need without the resources to obtain representation.
The federal poverty guidelines indicate that a Family of four living in poverty earns below $20,000 per year. We then looked at a county in Nevada that we thought was probably an average of what it costs to live in our state. So we chose Lyon County. The estimated cost of basic living needs-in Lyon County for a family with 2 parents with 2 children was $38,421 This was the actual cost to meet basic needs in Nevada before gas hit $4 gallon or before a gallon of milk cost $4. In addition, Nevada has the highest average credit card balance. Average $20,000 debt (excluding real estate).
Here are some other trends that indicate need in Nevada Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation in 2007. 06-07: 15,813 child abuse reports 06-07: 6,179 elder abuse and neglect complaints 05-06: almost 60,000 family related cases in District Court, excluding TPOs
Some other estimates of need are trends related to domestic violence. You can see from this chart that these numbers have been steadily increasing. If you look at the demographic changes, particularly the growth of the Hispanic population, this number is likely to continue to increase since domestic violence occurs at a disproportionately higher rate for that sub-population. This also is thought to be a low estimate because there are different reporting processes and different ways of coding cases by counties. In addition, because the nature of the matter, this group is less likely to self-report.
Child abuse trends have also risen over the past few years. There are only 12 attorneys statewide that provide legal aid related to child advocacy in our state.
Other: 2006 census indicated that there were 475,000 foreign born residents in Nevada (19% of total population). 303,000 of which are not naturalized. 70% are unemployed, 3% not employed, and the rest are not in the labor force.
Most vulnerable population. Huge problem in rurals, more likely to be in poverty, disabled, no vehicle.
Focus Group participants were very courageous and generous in sharing their stories. Questions that we asked included what their legal need was, and how they found out about legal aid, how they resolved their issues, and what they recommended. They were thrilled to be asked and have a chance to offer solutions. All really valued the legal aid they received. Similar to the telephone survey, most people had multiple issues. We conducted focus groups in Southern Nevada, Northern Nevada and the balance of the state. Most folks found out about services that were available from the courts, a family member or a friend. At the same time, some folks were really disappointed that the court never referred them to free legal aid. This underscores that the civil legal justice system varies from court to court and region to region.
Here you see that all areas of the state indicated financial needs as well as family or domestic needs. Immigration is seen as a huge unmet need across the state since LSC providers are prohibited from providing any assistance related to immigration.
Here you see a comparison of the telephone survey results compared to the focus groups. One area to note is that only 4% of those contacted via the telephone survey indicated an issue with immigration. This is not surprising as someone would be less likely to indicate they had that need if they did not know who was on the other end of the phone. However when we got into the focus groups, many more individuals identified this as an issue and it was often linked to domestic violence.
They are often right. Kits, classes, forms, and assistance are all part of the continuum of services needed in addition to the need for legal representation. This continuum is not uniformly available across the state.
Some saw Court as help-telling us that the judge told me about how to get help while others were frustrated that no one at Court told them about resources available. Persons with child custody-reported significant difference in how they were treated if no representation was available. This is linked with a need for understanding the legal process and system. People indicated they could tell that the judge was frustrated with them but they were just trying to get them to understand what they thought the legal issue was.
Really depends on where geographically they are and what they are experiencing. Kits: bankruptcy, divorce, classes as a full continuum is mostly available in Clark County with some components available in the rest of the state. Providers in Washoe County told us they would like to provide classes for divorce and bankruptcy but literally have no space to hold the classes. Low cost options are not in place in 16 counties in the State: There are needs statewide for a hotline, ghost writing, kiosks, representation.
Clark County-credit reports were noted as something most employers do prior to hiring. For folks who are working, this becomes a critical issue if they lose their job as they will have trouble getting another one. Most people we talked to were or wanted to be employed.
Immigration-4% in telephone survey but 3 whole focus groups across the State.
Disparity in Northern Nevada
-Travel club-senior center Senior center residents: -end of life -benefits -predatory procedures
Providers: can’t meet current needs-setting providers based on finding, core mission, gaps in services.
-State tobacco settlement money is currently at risk. Most funding in our state is non-LSC. As the state budget crisis escalates, funds may be jeapordized for non LSC providers, meaning even less people will have access in the future. County budget cuts may also impact this in the near future.
Obviously, no matter how efficient or effective you are, an average of $7 per person for legal aid for persons living in poverty is not sufficient to meet the need.
2007 Pro Bono report Did you provide. 4,500 No, 3,400 Yes Of that, 933 were inactive members, 2,800 donated hours, over 100,000 hours Majority in family law. 417 reported donating money to a provider. 115 reported 50,000 State Bar dues
Doesn’t include 12 child advocate attorneys. Clinics at law school. Non legal advocates: Catholic Community Services.
As a result of all this information, some goals have been established to improve access to civil legal justice.
This needs assessment was made possible through the leadership of the Commission and the State Bar of Nevada, with the majority of funding provided by the Nevada Supreme Court, the Nevada Law Foundation, the State Bar of Nevada, and SJI. Funding contributions were also received from the Nevada Judges Association, the Clark County and Washoe County Bar Associations, and Nevada’s legal aid providers. All contributors are gratefully commended for their support. 2008 The Supreme Court of Nevada Access to Justice Commission
Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists...it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status."
In 1994 the American Bar Association published a “Comprehensive Legal Needs Study” that was the first to document scientifically the unmet legal needs of low-income people.
Combination telephone survey with individual household face to face interviews for households without telephones.
Purpose--define the unmet civil legal needs across America.
On average, low-income households experienced approximately one civil legal need per year and that help was received from a legal aid provider or the private bar for roughly one in five of all problems identified.
General assumptions that can be drawn regarding the justice gap in states across America…
For every client served by an LSC-funded program, at least one person who sought help was turned down because of insufficient resources.
Only a very small percentage of the legal problems experienced by low-income people (one in five or less) are addressed with the assistance of a private attorney (pro bono or paid) or a legal aid lawyer.
People who need legal help frequently don’t know about availability of civil legal assistance or their potential eligibility for legal services.
People who need legal help and know that they meet the eligibility requirements for free legal services may not seek help from the program because they believe ( often correctly ) that the program will not be able to assist them, and
Geographical distance, low literacy, physical or mental disability, limited English proficiency, culture and ethnic background, and apprehension about the courts and the legal system, also pose impediments.
As noted in a 2007 New York Times Editorial, “Here’s another way the rich are different from the poor: They have lawyers . Poor people can count on free legal aid in criminal cases, but in civil proceedings — battles with landlords, employers, government bureaucracies — justice costs money , which means lots of people have to do without it. The benefits are widespread, since each dollar for legal assistance saves many that would be spent on other social services. People unfairly rejected for Medicaid wind up in emergency rooms. Families that can’t fight unfair evictions end up in homeless shelters.
In June 2006, the Supreme Court of the State of Nevada issued an order creating the Nevada Access to Justice Commission and adopted Supreme Court Rule 15 that defined the purpose, composition and meetings of the Commission.
In May 2007, the Nevada Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission published a Request for Proposals (RFP) to conduct a telephone survey of Nevada’s low-income residents. The primary goal was to assist the Commission on Access to Justice with assessing the civil justice needs of Nevada’s low-income residents.
Of 207 persons that identified a housing problem, 74% reported financial problems, 50% reported a domestic problem, and 46% reported a benefit problem.
47% of households faced some type of personal finance or consumer-related legal issue within the past 12 months. These issues include:
Contact by a collection agency regarding unpaid bills
Having major problem with creditor
Having local utility cut off service or threaten to stop service to household
Dealing with incorrect information in a credit report
Percentage That Experienced at Least One Legal Problem Related to Each Category 26% 1% 4% 11% 12% 19% 21% 24% 47% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% Finances Family Benefits Housing Employment Court hearings Disability Immigrants Native Americans Total Sample <125% 125 - <200% c
As a group, 9% received help from a lawyer for all the problems they identified, and 20% of those with one or more legal problems received help from a lawyer for at least one but not all of the legal problems they identified.
Many of those who asked for help did not receive help from a lawyer.
Nevada’s population growth over the past 10 years, coupled with a dramatic shift in the demographics of Nevada’s residents impacts service delivery. With more seniors including those ages 75 and over, a growing immigrant population, and a growing number of homeless individuals and families, the demand on the legal system will only continue to increase.
Almost 700,000 people – over 28% of the state’s population – had been at or below 200% of the federal poverty level in the preceding year. Significant disparities in poverty are also associated with race and ethnicity.
Households with children under age 18 were less likely than those without children to have had a household member with this type of problem (9% vs. 13%).
Respondents ages 55 to 59 (20%) were the most likely to indicate that someone in the household had a legal issue related to a disability, serious health condition, or mental health condition, followed by those ages 35 to 54 (13%), 18 to 34 (10%), or 60+ (4%).
Those who are disabled (28%) or unemployed (20%) were among the most likely to indicate there was a problem related to a disability, serious health condition, or mental health condition, while retired (4%) individuals were among the least likely to indicate that someone in the household experienced this type of problem.
My husband is getting no help at all. He had to stop working because of his health. He was in Vietnam and exposed to Agent Orange—he has multiple health problems—diabetic, on oxygen, and needs therapy. But we can’t get disability or social security because he had retirement, and supposedly he doesn’t qualify. He used to make $4,000 a month and his retirement income is $1,700. He’s filed claims through the VA but they say it just takes forever…meanwhile we’re barely getting by. We don’t know where to turn.
I took out a $300 pay day loan to make my car payment. The loan payment was $60 every two weeks. I got paid twice a month. Eventually, I missed a payment because the loan was due but I hadn’t gotten paid yet. So, I reduced the amount of the payment and was paying a penalty for not paying the whole $60. Then, I got sick and missed work. I missed a payment. Now, I owe $1,500 on my original $300 loan and nothing I paid counts towards that.”
Focus group participants describe life without a legal work permit as “living in the shadows and in a constant state of fear;” fear to drive a car, fear to pay a parking ticket, fear to call take action against landlords for unsafe housing, fear to press discrimination charges for employment or workplace safety, fear to go to a doctor for preventative medicine, fear to speak to police officers, and most of all fear that their children will be taken away.
I was sent by the Family Victim’s Advocate to the Police. I requested and received a TPO. My ex-husband has violated the TPO a number of times. Each time I call the police. Sometimes he gets arrested and bails out within hours. Other women have TPO’s against him. He continues to threaten to kill my children and me.
Each time a TPO expires, I have to go back and get another one. The last time he violated the TPO, he was deported. Within 72 hours, he was back in Reno and he showed up at my children’s school. I asked a U.S. Marshall what to do to prevent him from continuing to terrorize my family; he said to buy a gun .
The challenge of reaching seniors is cultural and generational. There are a number of seniors that grew up not talking about money, health, retirement or end of life decisions. This group is inclined to resist asking for assistance even when a legal matter is identified, saying they were just not raised to talk about these issues.
Throughout the state providers noted that they would like to advertise but they can’t meet current needs let alone increased needs without more staff to back up the system and manage intakes and interviews. They fear being deluged by new clients when they can’t serve current needs.
Nationwide, non-LSC funding sources have been steadily increasing, but LSC funding has not kept up with inflation. LSC funding is less than half of what it was in 1980, when it provided “minimum access” or two lawyers for each 10,000 persons in poverty in a geographic area.
To keep up with inflation, total LSC funding for the U.S. would need to be $704,055,000 (in 2005 dollars). Instead, LSC is funded at $330,803,705—47% of what it would have been had it kept up with inflation.
The State Bar of Nevada data system shows that there are a total of 5,997 active members that reside and practice within the state. An additional 1,227 State Bar of Nevada members reside outside of the state. Judges are not included in either of these statistics--a total of 152 judges are active members of the State Bar of Nevada.
Increase outreach and education to individuals and groups to help them identify what constitutes a civil legal need and how to access and provide assistance. Provide training and information on advocacy skills, the legal process and law-related issues they are likely to encounter.