Idahoans Aren’t Getting the Legal Help They Need

Friday, June 21 2013

BOISE, Idaho – Tens of thousands of low to moderate income Idahoans are not getting their legal needs met, according to a University of Idaho report being released today.

The study, performed by the College of Law and the Social Science Research Unit, is the first step in identifying needs and working to make improvements. The college and other policy makers will use the results to make decisions regarding how to meet the needs of underserved populations in Idaho.

“This study confirms what many of us in the profession have long suspected: access to civil justice is an ideal we are far from realizing here in Idaho,” said Michael Satz, College of Law interim dean. “It is my intention to use this information to show the continued need for a strong state College of Law and the need to provide the opportunity to train as lawyers in the State Capitol, bringing that knowledge back to the communities our students come from.”

The study assessed the legal needs of Idahoans in the last year in non-criminal matters. The study found that households with lower incomes were less likely to get legal help than those homes with higher incomes. Specifically, in Idaho, households at or below 200 percent federal poverty levels were found to be twice as likely as the general population to have unmet legal needs.

The study also found that Idahoans needed the most assistance in accessing public benefits and debt collection matters. Significant levels of unmet legal needs were also identified in family law cases, especially custody and child support, housing matters, and consumer transactions.

“Providing more legal services to these Idahoans would have a profound impact on their most basic human needs, such as food and shelter, and the opportunity to parent their children,” said Patrick Costello, legal needs study coordinator at the College of Law. “Solving this problem is something all of us need to work toward.”

The assessment report was based on telephone responses from 879 Idaho households, selected at random from wireless and landline numbers, regarding the types of civil legal needs the respondents had in the past 12 months, whether they obtained an attorney help to meet the needs they had, and, if they were unable to, why they could not.

In addition, 156 stakeholders, such as judges, attorneys, court clerks, victim advocates and court assistance officers, completed an online survey as part of the needs assessment study.

More than 80 percent of the stakeholders concluded that cost was the main reason Idahoans were unable to obtain legal services with their civil matters, and a majority felt that lack of such services led to lengthening and delaying court proceedings, and to adverse outcomes for the parties lack attorney assistance.

State support for legal services was ranked by respondents as the best option for addressing unmet civil legal needs. Now that the information is available, the College of Law and policy makers can look at addressing those needs.

The full report can be read at

For more information, contact emeritus professor Patrick Costello, legal needs study coordinator at the College of Law; Michael Satz, Interim Dean of the College of Law; University of Idaho Interim President Don Burnett (Dean of the College of Law when the study was undertaken); or Social Science Research Unit Project Manager, Stephanie Kane.
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