| Food for Thought |
by Wayne Moore
We speak often in this newsletter of Pro Bono Netís overarching mission: increasing access to justice through sophisticated technology for those who cannot afford to pay for legal representation or legal advice. The need for innovative and forward-looking approaches to legal services that can help leverage existing resources has never been greater than it is in this difficult economic climate.
Wayne Moore, a member of Pro Bono Netís Board of Directors, knows this need intimately from the perspective of one of our most vulnerable populations, the elderly. Wayne is the Director of Advocacy Planning and Issues Management of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and has worked in legal services for nearly three decades. He has lectured and published on how to improve the delivery of legal services and ensure that those services continue to be available to those who need them. Wayne offered some substantive thoughts on this topic to the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation recently and, with his permission, we would like to share his thoughts here with you.
This article reflects the personal views of Wayne Moore, is not the formal policy of AARP, and is offered for discussion and debate only.
Remarks of Wayne Moore, Director of Advocacy Planning for AARP, before the Provision Committee of the Legal Services Corporation
I have been asked to address how LSC can better serve low-income older people. The simple answer is by increasing the number of older people served. I firmly believe LSC can significantly increase services to all low-income people with its existing resources. This can be done by converting from outdated delivery systems to technology-based systems for handling advice and brief services cases. Hereís how: If all LSC grantees were required to use legal hotlines or a comparable delivery system, this change could free up over 800 full-time equivalent staff (20% of all LSC funded case handlers) to handle more cases. Currently these staff are providing advice and brief services inefficiently through outdated intake systems. If these 800 staff were assigned to hotlines and other efficient, technology based delivery systems, 880,000 more cases could be closed each year, nearly doubling existing services, and without reducing the number of extended services cases handled. However, I am not recommending that all these freed-up resources necessarily be used on advice and brief services cases.
I also believe that LSCís leadership in expanding and improving the state planning process will further improve the allocation of resources. Good state leadership and planning can minimize overlap and duplication among programs and ensure resources are well deployed.
As guardians of taxpayer dollars, LSC has an obligation to ensure resources are used productively, but without compromising quality. Requiring conversion to proven, more productive delivery systems does not impinge on state planning or local control. State and local leaders can still decide which legal problems to address, which clients to serve and how resources are allocated between brief services and extended services cases. What they should not be allowed to do is to refuse to adopt more productive delivery systems. Sometimes these out-dated systems are justified on the basis of quality concerns. However, legal hotlines have been extensively evaluated and there is no evidence that telephone delivered advice and brief services are inferior to the much more expensive face-to-face delivery of these services. In fact special quality control systems have been deployed in hotlines, which ensure good quality.
Consequently I offer four recommendations:
- Continue to evaluate and strengthen the state planning process by specifically allocating funds for this purpose. Additional funding is needed to help states make needed changes to their planning processes that are identified through evaluation.
- Expand the LSCís TIG Program to fund programs to convert to modern, technology based, delivery systems for advice and brief services cases.
- Require programs to report separate data on case closures and the number of case handlers for each delivery system. This data should be used to establish national norms that programs can use to determine the effectiveness of their delivery systems, particularly for advice and brief services cases.
- Consider a different approach for requesting increases to LSCís appropriation, namely to ask for funding for improving state planning and converting to new delivery systems.
 There is growing evidence that court and program based self-help centers can achieve efficiencies comparable to hotlines.
 LSC data shows that 924,000 cases were closed in 1999 of which 19% (175,560) were extended services cases (court or agency decisions, negotiation) and 81% (748,440) were briefer services. The latest staffing data (1998) shows that 5017 full-time attorneys and paralegals (3590 attys; 1427 paras) worked for these LSC grantees. Assuming 20% of these staff did other things such as management, client education and impact work, that leaves 4014 to close 924,000 cases or 230 closed cases per full-time equivalent (FTE) case handler per year.
There is reasonably good data that demonstrates that hotlines can close 50% of a programís cases at a rate of 1100 cases per FTE. If 50% of all 924,000 cases is closed by a hotline or other efficient delivery system, this would require 420FTE to close 462,000 cases (462,000ł1100). If 80% of the remaining 286,440 (748,440 Ė 462,000) briefer services cases were closed at the current rate of 230 per FTE, this would require an additional 996 case handlers. Assuming that the remaining 232,848 cases are closed by staff or a volunteer lawyers project (VLP) at a reasonable rate of 130 mostly extended services cases per FTE per year, this would require 1791 more staff for a total of 3207 staff to close 924,000 cases. This would free up 807 FTE (20%) that are currently resolving advice and brief services cases to handle more cases and more complex cases. Even if staff and VLPs could only close 100 extended services cases per FTE, this would free up 270 (7%) staff.
 Since these new delivery systems primarily handle advice and brief services cases, the cases are fungible, allowing valid comparisons among programs and the establishment of national norms.
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