Comment: My statement that the majority of Floridians with legal
problems can't get them into the legal system is based on two paragraphs
below that I have put in italics. The first paragraph in italics states
that low and moderate income households comprise 85 percent of all Florida
households. The second paragraph in italics states that 70 percent of low
and moderate income households that have legal problems have no access to
the legal system. Thus, 70 percent of 85 percent is 59.5 percent; the
percentage of all Florida households with legal problems that have no
access to the legal system.
More than 40 percent of Florida's poor and middle class face problems that could be addressed by the justice system, but the majority never find their way to court.
That's the finding of the Florida Comprehensive Legal needs Study, commissioned by the Florida Bar Foundation and conducted by the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University.
The most common legal needs of low and moderate income Florida households pertain to housing and real property problems, personal finances, and consumer issues.
But the study found that no lawyer, mediator, or hearing body is involved in 70 percent of those legal needs. Moderate-income households were more likely to say the cost of legal assistance was not worth it, while low income households were more likely to say they could not afford the cost, the survey found.
While many Floridians try to handle their legal problems without the help of lawyers, the problems most likely to be taken to the civil justice system deal with family and domestic violence, the survey found.
The Florida study was initiated by the Foundation to learn about the nature and number of legal situations households face, what steps people take in dealing with those problems, and what kinds of legal services are needed to resolve those legal needs.
"Because of the huge unmet need, and low bank interest rates which have cut IOTA revenues 40 percent from 1990-91, proper targeting of IOTA funds is critical," said Hilliary Bass, president of the Foundation. "The study results for low income Florida residents will help the Foundation and our local legal aid program grantees make those important priority decisions."
Bass said the results also will be used as the underpinnings of a planned Foundation conference this Spring that will focus on increasing access for Florida's moderate income population.
"We expect the study will identify and help us overcome barriers, real or perceived, which prevent moderate income residents from gaining access to the legal system." Bass Said.
The Florida study came on the heels of a national survey of the legal needs of Americans conducted by the ABA Consortium on Legal Services and the Public. The Temple University institute also conducted the ABA survey, which was billed as the first large scale legal needs survey in two decades,
The Florida study was conducted in the late fall of 1993, and early winter of 1994, and included telephone interviews with around 1,100 respondents, 550 from each income group.
Low income households were defined as those with incomes with not more than 125 percent of the federal income poverty level. Moderate income households were defined as those with annual household income above 125 percent of the federal poverty level, but less than $60,000. These two groups combined include about 85 percent of the household population in Florida.
Approximately 34 percent of all low-income households surveyed in Florida faced some legal situation in 1992-1993, while 41 percent of all moderate-income households reported a legal need in the one-year period.
Those results are lower than the findings from the national sample, where the ABA found 47 percent of low income households reported at least one legal problem; among moderate-income households the figure was 52 percent.
"On average, each (Florida) low-income household averaged just over one-half of one new legal need during the one year reference period; moderate-income households averaged one new legal need" the report said. "However, among households actually reporting new legal needs, the average was right around two."
The rates for low-income households match the rates from the national sample of low-income households closely, but the rates for the moderate-income households are slightly lower than the national rates, the report said.
While 34 and 41 percent of low and moderate-income households reported a legal need, no more than 15 percent reported a need in any single category.
The two most frequently reported areas of need are housing and real property -- eleven percent for low-income and twelve percent for moderate-income -- and personal finances and consumer needs -- eleven percent for low-income and 15 percent for moderate-income households.
Community and regional needs and family and domestic needs were reported by 8 percent of low-income households.
Employment-related needs and needs related to wills and estates were reported by 10 percent of low and 9 percent of moderate-income households. The survey found moderate income households are more likely than low-income households to report needs related to employment -- 10 percent versus 7 percent -- and wills/estates/ advance directives -- 9 percent compared to 5 percent.
On the other hand, the survey found, low-income households are more likely than moderate-income households to report needs related to family and domestic situations -- 8 percent compared to 4 percent -- and health care problems -- 7 percent versus 3 percent.
"The difference in the spreads between the incidence and prevalence rates among the categories of legal needs reflect difference in the nature of those needs" the report said.
In general one can expect greater differences between incidence and prevalence for legal needs that take a long time to resolve and for needs that are perceived as chronic and not amenable to satisfactory resolution," the report said.
MEETING THE NEED
The study showed that the legal/judicial system was involved in almost a third of the legal needs. The needs of moderate-income households were split about equally between those in which some other action was taken and those in which it was not, while the needs of low-income households were more likely to involve taking other action, the report said.
About 25 percent of all needs were addressed only with the household's own efforts, while 5 to 11 percent involved a nonlawyer third party and not the legal/judicial system.
In another 40 percent of low income legal needs, and 34 percent of moderate income legal needs, nothing was done.
For low-income legal needs, households with incomes over $5,000 are more likely to take action in legal problems and to combine other actions with legal action, the survey said.
For moderate-income legal needs, households with incomes under $35,000 are more likely to take no action and those with incomes over $35,000 are more likely to turn to nonlegal third parties to to solve their legal problems, the report said.
"While this study examined encounters with various components of the civil justice system -- including courts, administrative hearing bodies, arbitrators, mediators, and dispute resolution centers -- lawyers were the most commonly encountered component of the system" the report said.
Most encounters with the legal/judicial system involved lawyers in their private law practices or legal services programs. More specifically, 19 percent of the legal needs of low income householders and 25 percent of the legal needs of moderate-income householders involved the services of a lawyer, the report said.
Use of lawyers was highest for family/domestic needs and lowest for community/regional needs among moderate-income households, but there were no meaningful differences in lawyer use by type of need among the needs of low-income households.
DO IT YOURSELF
Turning to a nonlegal third party was the most formal action taken for 5 percent of the needs reported by low-income households, the survey said. However, an additional 9 percent of needs involved both the legal/judicial system and nonlegal third parties, the survey said.
While 24 percent of the needs reported by low-income households involved nothing more than actions taken by the people involved, a total of 41 percent of all needs involved some legal actions taken, the survey said.
"This additional 17 percent also involved more formal action, such as help from a nonlegal third party, the legal judicial system, or both," according to the report.
The results show that low- and moderate-income households report very similar response patterns to legal needs," the survey said.
The study found that in meeting fully 70 percent of legal needs, no lawyer, mediator, or hearing body was involved.
The most common reasons mentioned for not involving the legal judicial system in low income legal needs were cost concerns (24 percent), the feeling that it would not help (17 percent), the opinion that the situation did not really constitute a problem (14 percent), and leaving the situation rather than confronting it (12 percent), according to the survey.
Three of those reasons were most frequently mentioned with moderate income households: cost concerns (11 percent), the feeling that it would not help (15 percent), and the opinion that the situation did not really constitute a problem (17 percent). Moderate income respondents also mentioned never getting around to it (12 percent) and the ability to handle the problem without the help (11 percent), the survey found.
"The biggest difference between low income and moderate income households was their concern about the cost of legal assistance," the survey said. "Moderate income households were more likely to say the cost of legal help was not worth it, while low income households were more likely to say they could not afford the cost".