Spangenberg Report

"THOU SHALL NOT RATION JUSTICE"

-Judge Learned Hand

The Spangenberg Report: An Assessment of the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Ohio's Poor

The Spangenberg Report is comprehensive assessment of the unmet legal needs of low-income persons in Ohio and was undertaken to achieve these three major goals:

  1. To document the civil legal needs of low-income people throughout Ohio;
  2. To catalog the availability of free legal services in Ohio, including both program and fiscal resources; and
  3. To develop a series of recommendations to bridge the gap between documented need and available services.

The report's executive summary is available in PDF format and provided below. For more information on the report, please contact the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.

The Spangenberg Report - Executive Summary (September, 1991):

Prepared For:

Prepared By:

Ohio Legal Needs Advisory Committee

Legal Needs Assessment Committee

Telephone Survey Subcommittee

Provider Questionnaire Subcommittee

Acknowledgments

The Ohio Legal Needs Study could not have been completed without the able assistance of individuals throughout the state who gave generously of their time during our site visits. We cannot thank them all here by name but they include legal services providers, private attorneys and bar leaders, judges, law school clinical program faculty, government officials at various state agencies, community action program staff, social services providers, advocacy organization staff, farm labor organization members, shelter providers and a variety of other individuals who shared with us their perceptions on the legal needs of the poor in their community.

In addition, we want to acknowledge the able assistance of our three expert consultants who brought their vast experience in the field to the project: Robert J. Rhudy, Executive Director of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation and President of the National Association of IOLTA Programs, Inc.; Ann Barker, formerly Pro Bono Coordinator at Knoxville Legal Aid and currently consultant to the American Bar Association's Litigation Assistance Partnership Project; and Ann Bartsch, Director of Member Services for the Oregon State Bar and General Counsel for the Oregon Law Foundation.

Ohio Legal Needs Study

Ohio's more than 590,000 low-income households experienced approximately 1,000,000 civil legal problems between July 1989 and July 1990. Only 17 percent of these problems received legal attention while 83 percent went without legal help.

Some of these problems are not unique to the poor, like the need to draft a will or secure a divorce. Others, however, are exacerbated by poverty, like a housing conditions problem when little affordable housing exists and the alternative may be homelessness, or a public utility problem where the choice to pay an electric bill may mean foregoing a rent payment or the purchase of a needed prescription drug.

Still other problems are unique to the poor and relate to the increasingly complex bureaucracy that regulates their lives. At risk here are basic human needs including food, shelter, and health care. The approval or denial of public benefits, for example, may be the critical element in a family's ability to survive as a unit; for children to attend school and have some hope for the future; for basic nutrition, shelter and health care to be maintained; and for people to undertake training and ultimately secure meaningful work. Former Cincinnati Bar President Harry H. Santen aptly summarized the unique nature of the legal problems of the poor:

Bureaucratic agencies with their myriad of rules intersect and dominate the lives of the poor. The incessant maneuvering among the agencies is demanding and time consuming. For the poor, the transcendent goal of the process is little more than subsistence or physical survival.

The basic relationship of the poor to public bureaucracies is dependence, and this relationship is governed by law and regulation. It is often an adversarial relationship: benefits rarely are dispensed gratuitously nor are rights granted automatically. Even information on the rules can be difficult to obtain.

Without legal help few of us, rich or poor, could negotiate the maze-like bureaucracies one encounters in the nether world of poverty....[T]o a large extent, subsistence and survival needs are legal needs. This fact markedly sets the poor apart.

Recognizing the need for legal assistance for Ohio's most vulnerable citizens and responding to an emerging crisis in the provision of civil legal services to Ohio's poor, the Ohio State Bar Association and the Ohio Metropolitan Bar Leaders Conference jointly commissioned The Spangenberg Group of West Newton, MA to conduct the Ohio Legal Needs Study. The Spangenberg Group is a nationally recognized research consulting firm specializing in studies related to the legal problems of low-income people. This 15-month long project is the first comprehensive assessment of the unmet legal needs of low-income persons in Ohio and was undertaken to achieve these three major goals:

  1. To document the civil legal needs of low-income people throughout Ohio;
  2. To catalog the availability of free legal services in Ohio, including both program and fiscal resources; and
  3. To develop a series of recommendations to bridge the gap between documented need and available services.

Study Methodology

Study design and implementation benefited from the able assistance and oversight of both the Legal Needs Assessment Working Committee and the Legal Needs Advisory Committee. Study methodology included four major study components:

  1. A telephone survey of 1,000 low-income households randomly selected from all parts of the state designed to document the quantity and types of civil legal problems experienced as well as the utilization of legal assistance. Telephone survey data were analyzed both from a statewide and regional perspective. The statewide telephone survey produced data with a confidence interval at 95 percent, of +/-3 percent. The confidence interval for regional data, at 95 percent, was +/-6 percent. In addition, 106 in-person interviews using the identical telephone survey instrument were conducted with low-income individuals living in households without telephones in Appalachian Ohio to better understand whether this population experiences either different types or greater numbers of civil legal problems than the low-income population generally.

  2. A program questionnaire mailed to all major providers of civil legal assistance to low-income persons. This two-part questionnaire, designed for both staff and organized pro bono projects, allowed researchers to catalogue available services and resources through documenting funding, staff and caseload trends since 1981.

  3. A mail survey of a random sample of 158 private attorneys statewide to assess the quantity of free legal services provided outside of organized pro bono efforts.

  4. Extensive site visits throughout the state both to supplement the mail and telephone survey data and provide critical information on certain subpopulations inaccessible by telephone. Site visits included in-person interviews with over 200 individuals including state level officials, members of the judiciary, private bar leaders, legal services directors and staff, social services providers and others involved with or who could provide insight into the delivery of civil legal services in Ohio.

The final report of the Ohio Legal Needs Study synthesizes the vast amount of both quantitative and qualitative data gathered through this multifaceted methodology.

Major Study Findings

The following sections contain major study findings that flow from 15 months of project research. The findings are grouped under the two study goals of documenting the legal needs of Ohio's poor and cataloging the availability of legal services in Ohio to meet those needs.

Legal Needs of Ohio's Poor

Quantity of Legal Need
Finding 1: Ohio's low-income households experienced close to one million civil legal problems during the study period. This projection is based on telephone survey respondents reporting a total of 1,585 problems, or an average of 1.6 problems per poor household across the entire sample. Urban respondents reported a higher average number of problems per household than those respondents living in rural regions of the state.

Types of Legal Problems
Finding 2: The four most frequently mentioned categories of civil legal need reported statewide by telephone survey respondents (in descending order of frequency) were: consumer; housing; medical; and family problems.

Utilization of Legal Assistance
Finding 3: Only 17 percent of the legal need is being addressed in Ohio, with nearly 83 percent of the legal problems reported statewide going without legal attention. Rural telephone survey respondents reported that a higher proportion of their problems receive legal attention than urban respondents.

Finding 4: In a little over half the instances statewide where telephone survey respondents received legal help for a problem (56.8 percent), that help was provided free of charge. In those instances where respondents were charged for services, however, they nearly always were charged a fee of $100 or more. Respondents in urban regions were far more likely to have free legal help than those living in rural areas of the state. Likewise, respondents in the most urban counties more often received reduced fee services than those in rural counties.

Finding 5: Utility, medical, education and discrimination problems receive the most limited legal attention with only five percent of the total problems in these four categories getting legal help. Family and wills and estate problems most often receive legal attention. Only about half the problems in both these latter categories, however, receive legal help.

Finding 6: Twenty percent of the low-income households surveyed said that free legal services were available to them. Sixty-six percent categorically said that no free legal services were available, while 15 percent said they did not know whether free legal services were available. Since, theoretically, free legal services are available throughout Ohio, the telephone survey results indicate low awareness of such services. Urban regions had a greater awareness while rural respondents were less aware of free legal services.

Households Without Telephones
Finding 7: Appalachian households without telephones reported more than twice the number of legal problems per household than the Appalachian sample with telephones. In addition, these problems received legal help far less frequently than problems reported by the Appalachian households with telephones.

Special Populations
Finding 8: Low-income members of certain special population groups have legal needs which often go unserved because of the unique barriers they face in accessing the legal system. The special populations most often highlighted during site visits include the elderly, farmworkers, children, the homeless, veterans, and people with disabilities.

The Availability of Free Legal Assistance in Ohio

Funding
Finding 9: Between 1981 and 1989, the total funding for the Legal Services Corporation funded staff programs in Ohio increased by only 7.8 percent, expressed in constant 1989 dollars (adjusted for inflation). During this period, federal funding decreased overall by more than a quarter, including both Legal Services Corporation and other federal funds. The slight increase in total funding was due largely to the establishment of the Interest on Lawyers' Trust Account (IOLTA) Program in 1985, which provided nearly $4 million in 1989, accounting for more than 20 percent of all funding for these programs.

Staffing and Salary Patterns
Finding 10: The small increase in available funding between 1981 and 1989 has limited the ability of the major legal services programs in Ohio to maintain staff levels, particularly of staff attorneys providing direct services to clients, and to provide salaries sufficient to attract and retain the best qualified, most experienced staff members.

Number of Offices
Finding 11: While the total number of offices has remained essentially the same since 1981, there has been an 80 percent increase in the number of part-time offices maintained by LSC funded staff programs.

Caseload
Finding 12: The majority of cases handled by LSC-funded staff programs in Ohio are family law cases, with housing and consumer cases also receiving significant attention from providers. Clients with problems in the areas of education, employment, juvenile, health, and individual rights rarely receive the assistance of a legal services attorney. In 1989, LSC staff programs handled approximately 51,000 cases.

Case Type and Intake Restrictions
Finding 13: More than three-quarters of the LSC funded staff programs have had to cut back on the types of cases handled since 1981 and a majority has had to limit intake to only emergencies at some point during the past year as a result of resource limitations and staff reductions.

Law School Clinical Programs
Finding 14: Caseload estimates indicate that law school clinical programs in Ohio currently handle a tiny percentage of the legal need of the poor. Clinical programs uniformly do not see themselves as a potential source of high volume legal services to the poor. Rather, their orientation is primarily on the educational value of a particular case experience.

Organized Pro Bono
Finding 15: On a statewide basis, the total number of private attorneys involved in organized pro bono efforts is small; participation is particularly low in the rural areas of the state. Certain urban pro bono programs, however, are making a significant contribution by handling a substantial portion of their local staff program's total caseload. Nevertheless, the private bar in Ohio is handling less than one percent of the documented legal needs of the poor through organized pro bono projects. These efforts are focused on the family law area, particularly on divorces. The LSC sponsored or coordinated pro bono projects handled approximately 6,500 civil legal problems for low-income people in Ohio in 1989.

Informal Pro Bono
Finding 16: Just under half of the private attorneys surveyed indicated that they had provided informal pro bono services directly to low-income persons during the past year. Only a small percentage of private attorneys surveyed, however, made financial contributions to legal services programs, and those in nominal amounts.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The following section provides readers with a series of recommendations as adopted by the Legal Needs Advisory Committee. They are meant to lay the groundwork for an action plan to better meet the civil legal needs of the poor in Ohio. The recommendations are grouped around four major study conclusions on civil legal need in Ohio and the availability of free legal services to meet that need. These overall conclusions to the study address fiscal resources, human resources, priority areas for service, and the problem of awareness.

The purpose of the Ohio Legal Needs Study has been to document and analyze the civil legal needs of the poor in Ohio and to propose ways to better meet those needs. In order to achieve this goal, the first and overarching recommendation must be to develop a well-coordinated, statewide plan to assure the implementation of study recommendations. Specifically, the Legal Needs Advisory Committee recommends that the Ohio State Bar Association and Ohio Metropolitan Bar Leaders Conference, in cooperation with the Supreme Court of Ohio, establish an implementation plan with regard to the findings and recommendations contained in this report and an Implementation Committee as soon as feasible. Opportunities to participate on the Committee should be extended to Advisory Committee members; legal services programs' board and staff members; representatives from state, county and local bar associations; the state's IOLTA director; potential funders from the private foundation community; officials from the legislative, executive and judicial branches; and other interested individuals. The Ohio State Bar Association should provide a part-time position to staff the implementation effort.

Conclusion 1: Funding for free legal services in Ohio is currently inadequate to meet even a minimum level of legal need. Substantial new resources must be developed to support increased provision of free legal services to the poor in Ohio.

Recommendation 1: By 1995, at least half of the most serious needs for legal services should be met through a combination of increased public and private funding and the expanded pro bono efforts of private attorneys. Recognizing that few people, regardless of income, consult an attorney in every instance where such advice might be beneficial, we do not consider it realistic to recommend that all the legal needs of the poor be met. Rather, this represents a more conservative and achievable approach to meeting a larger proportion of the legal needs of the poor in Ohio.

Recommendation 2: The Implementation Committee should meet with the Ohio Congressional Delegation to present the Ohio Legal Needs Study Report and to educate them about its findings and recommendations. The Committee should undertake ongoing communications with the delegation around issues affecting free legal services for the poor, particularly encouraging their support of substantially increased federal appropriations for program providing such legal services.

Recommendation 3: Ohio must seek to maximize dollars currently dedicated to free legal services through the state's IOLTA program. The first step is to ensure that all of the Ohio attorneys who are required to participate in the mandatory program are, in fact, participating.

Recommendation 4: IOLTA and surcharge funds should continue to be reserved for legal services programs to the poor. The gap between current need and available resources is so great that any attempted diversion of these funds for other purposes should be resisted.

Recommendation 5: Despite projections of Ohio state budget deficits, the Ohio General Assembly should be encouraged to support the provision of free legal services to the poor through the creation of a legal services line item funded with general revenues.

Recommendation 6: LSC staff programs should increase and coordinate their efforts to solicit the Ohio philanthropic community in support of free legal services to the poor.

Recommendation 7: The Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) and the Metropolitan Bar Leaders Conference should work on a variety of fronts to increase resources for civil legal services to the poor, in response both to the findings contained in this report and the support expressed by members in the 1990 OSBA membership survey. The Bar should:

Recommendation 8: The Implementation Committee should explore additional sources of revenue for the legal services programs for the poor.


Conclusion 2: The major providers of free legal services to the poor in Ohio are able to handle only a fraction of the poor's current need for legal assistance. Although over 50,000 legal problems were addressed during the study period by the LSC staff and organized pro bono programs, these efforts together met only an estimated five percent of the overall need; the informal pro bono arrangements provided by the private bar, at a maximum of 72,000 cases, account for approximately seven percent of the need. The law school clinical programs serve a minute .1 percent of the need, at approximately 1,000 cases.

Recommendation 9: Staff resources at LSC programs must be improved. The numbers of staff attorneys should be increased and adequate paralegal and support staff provided. Without further analysis, it is difficult to project the exact number of attorneys needed to meet the need. At current staffing levels of approximately 210 managing and staff attorneys statewide, the ratio of poor persons to legal aid attorneys in Ohio is 7,000 to 1. That compares to a general population to attorney ratio of 394 to 1.

Recommendation 10: Salaries, wages and benefits for legal services attorneys, paralegals and support staff should be increased to levels adequate to attract and retain qualified staff.

Recommendation 11: Legal services providers should devise better ways to use paralegal and non-attorney staff in those areas of practice, particularly intake, brief service and advice, where a lawyer's assistance is not required. Any expanded use of non-attorney staff however, should be carefully accompanied by adequate training and supervision.

Recommendation 12: The Ohio General Assembly should review the effectiveness of fee shifting provisions in existing statutes, particularly where private attorneys have not been able to rely on the courts to award fees.

Recommendation 13: An assessment should be undertaken of the AARP Hotline for legal services to the elderly to determine: the percentage of low-income clients who utilize this service, the types of problems most effectively addressed through a hotline approach; the number of referrals to LSC staff programs; the actual percentage of cases that eventually are handled both by free legal services and private attorneys; and the feasibility of using a hotline approach to handle the more than 50 percent of the LSC program caseload currently receiving brief service and advice only.

Recommendation 14: Other alternative delivery methods should be explored and developed to better meet the legal needs of the poor and help reduce the strain on the justice system, including alternative dispute resolution clinics, small claims courts and mediation programs (like Columbus' Night Prosecutor's Program) for civil matters.

Recommendation 15: Efforts should be undertaken to remove barriers to pro se representation and to effectively encourage it in those types of cases appropriate for self representation, including the possibility of new legislation or changes in court rules, the training of court personnel in assisting with pro se representation, and the involvement of legal service providers in pro se clinics or educational efforts.

Recommendation 16: Legislation or a court rule should be considered to make automatic the waiver of prepayment of filing fees in cases where a party is represented by legal services or referred by legal services for pro bono representation.

Recommendation 17: All attorneys should be encouraged to participate in organized pro bono projects. Incentives should be considered in the following areas:

Recommendation 18: Coordination and referral mechanisms should be developed between LSC programs and local non-profit organizations serving the poor to help direct private attorneys interested in providing pro bono legal services to such non-profits to meet the need for such assistance.

Recommendation 19: Local LSC programs should devise ways of better enlisting local bar support for their work in serving the legal needs of the poor. These efforts to improve relationships between local programs and the private bar should help to enlist more local attorneys in organized pro bono efforts.

Recommendation 20: An educational effort needs to be launched that will provide lawyers, judges, court personnel, public officials, law students, and others with whom the poor may deal with adequate knowledge and understanding of the conditions of their lives, their problems, and their needs.

Recommendation 21: Large law firms should be encouraged to adopt explicit pro bono policies which make clear their endorsement of service to the poor such as giving attorneys the same time credit and support resources for their pro bono efforts as are given for their fee generating work. Large firms should also consider undertaking other efforts, such as externships which place private attorneys in LSC program offices or summer associate pro bono programs.

Recommendation 22: Law schools should provide students increased encouragement and the opportunity to work with low-income people through:

Recommendation 23: Efforts should be undertaken to evaluate the current delivery of services and determine how to better utilize resources in state programs that seek to maximize federal revenues or contain welfare costs through the provision of free legal assistance such as the state's IVD child support enforcement program or the General Assistance/SSI (GASSI) programs.

Recommendation 24: In situations where the state provides a right to counsel, particularly in the juvenile and child welfare area, increased efforts should be made to ensure that appointed attorneys are paid adequately and appointments are made consistently throughout the state as required by law or court rule.


Conclusion 3: Legal services program priorities (and the priorities of their pro bono programs, as well), may not be entirely reflective of the legal needs of the poor as documented through the Ohio Legal Needs Study. Clients that seek assistance at LSC offices may not be representative of the needs of the overall poor population, as they are often already aware of the limited priority areas served or may view only certain problems as being amenable to legal relief.

Recommendation 25: Legal services providers should re-assess and evaluate current priorities in view of the data now available through the Ohio Civil Legal Needs Study. This is not to say that priorities should be realigned in direct proportion to the need documented here, but that the study provides an opportunity to hear directly from potential clients of legal services, not simply the people who find their way to legal services programs. These data should be carefully examined in view of current service demands and priority setting rationale.

Recommendation 26: Households without telephones are among the poorest and most in need of legal assistance in Appalachian Ohio. Legal services providers, including Title III providers, should seek innovative delivery systems to ensure that these most vulnerable citizens are aware of their rights and that free legal assistance is available to them.

Recommendation 27: Migrant farmworkers, frail and isolated elders, the homeless, children and poor veterans all suffer from unique legal problems and barriers to accessing legal help. Legal services providers should allocate additional resources to better meet the need as documented by the telephone survey and to address the special needs of these populations not accessible through the telephone survey.

Recommendation 28: Legal Services providers should explore ways to design a more comprehensive and coordinated statewide legal services delivery system. While we recognize the strength of local control in the current delivery system, program quality statewide would be enhanced by certain systemwide efforts including:

Recommendation 29: Legal services providers and other organizations serving the poor should be encouraged to increase efforts to bring about positive changes in laws affecting the poor, including legislative and regulatory advocacy.

Recommendation 30: Attorneys, including those in major law firms, in house counsel staffs and lawyers in government service, should increase efforts to work with legal services providers as co-counsel seeking systemic change through litigation.


Conclusion 4: Awareness of the availability of free legal assistance is low among the poor. In addition, the private bar, particularly in rural parts of the state, and the general population lack an understanding of the dimension of unmet legal needs of the poor and the mission of legal services programs.

Recommendation 31: Legal services providers, law schools and bar associations should work together to implement a basic program of community education designed to explain the legal issues of interest to low-income persons throughout Ohio. Outreach should be performed on two levels: 1) low-income individuals need to be educated about the availability and location of free legal services; and 2) they need to be shown which of their problems may, in fact, require legal assistance. Emphasis should be placed on those issue areas documented through the telephone survey where there was a high problem frequency but low utilization of legal help, particularly medically related legal problems and utility problems.

Recommendation 32: Legal services providers, and state and local bar officials need to make a more concerted effort to educate bar members about the legal needs of the poor and LSC program work in meeting those needs.

Recommendation 33: The findings of the Ohio Legal Needs Study should be broadly distributed to the statewide and local press. An overall marketing plan must first be developed to ensure that key people receive the information from this study in the manner most appropriate for them. The plan should include: