National Survey of Legal Assistance for the Elderly:
Results and Implications


The National Survey involved gathering data on a number of issues surrounding the provision of legal assistance to older persons throughout the U.S. Data were collected from February through May 1997. In an attempt to attain a comprehensive look at legal assistance efforts, surveys were sent to five different sources within the aging and legal networks: legal services developers, area agencies on aging (AAA), legal assistance providers receiving OAA Title IIIB funding but not LSC funds (Title IIIB providers), legal assistance providers receiving OAA Title IIIB and LSC funding (Title IIIB/LSC providers), and legal services providers receiving LSC funding but not OAA funding (LSC providers).

Efforts were made to identify all AAAs and all legal assistance providers receiving LSC and/or OAA funding. A list of AAAs was obtained from the National Directory for Eldercare Information and Referral; a list of LSC providers was obtained from the Legal Services Corporation; and a list of Title IIIB providers was obtained from the legal services developer in each state. As much as was possible, all AAAs, developers, and civil legal assistance providers for the poor were surveyed. In all, 51 LSDs, 649 AAAs, 317 Title IIIB providers, 185 Title IIIB/LSC providers and 101 LSC providers were sent a mail survey. A follow-up mailing, conducted in early May, was sent to 51 AAAs, 241 Title IIIB providers, 102 Title IIIB/LSC providers, and 27 LSC providers.

Response rate to the survey was very good. This report represents the survey responses of 90% (46) of the LSDs, 59% (380) of the AAAs, 46% (158) of the Title IIIB providers, 61% (112) of the Title IIIB/LSC providers, and 47% (47) of the LSC providers. Overall, fifty percent (304) of all legal assistance providers responded to the survey. Surveys that were unsuccessfully mailed, are not included in these figures.

The groups targeted for the survey can basically be broken into two groups: providers and Aging Network offices (LSDs and AAAs). The format and contents of the surveys varied based on the targeted group, however common issues were addressed in each type of survey. For example, because the goal of the survey was largely to determine the impact of changes in LSC funding and restrictions and the possibility of changes in the Older Americans Act (OAA), surveys for legal assistance provider groups contained questions regarding:

Surveys sent to the Aging Network grouping, legal services developers (LSDs) and Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), contained questions regarding:

Although surveys contained the common themes listed above, questions in the different surveys were tailored to the specific issues and experience of the audience addressed. Efforts were made, however, to phrase questions using similar language across surveys so that a comparison could be made between responses from the different groups.

Many of the questions that asked about changes were followed up with a question that asked the respondent to indicate to what they attributed the particular change. In this way, the survey attempted to gather information about the extent to which various changes in legal services to the elderly are attributed to LSC cuts, restrictions, and possible OAA changes.

Prior to discussing and analyzing the results presented in the remainder of this report, the limitations of the data should be considered. As noted above, the data were collected through a mail survey and were not corroborated with "hard data" such as first-hand observations. As with any mail survey, the data are based solely on the perceptions of the respondents and thus may be subject to bias. Surveys were addressed to the Executive Director or managing attorney of each office; however, the actual respondent of the survey varied, as directors often passed the survey along to others within the organization to complete. It was assumed that the Director of the office would enlist the most knowledgeable staff person to respond to the survey, but this cannot be verified.

Finally, although 50% of legal assistance providers, nearly 60% of AAAs and 90% of LSDs responded to the survey, there can be self-selection bias with a mail survey. That is, it is possible that those organizations that did not respond to the survey are substantially different than those that did respond. For example, those legal assistance providers that did not respond may have significantly reduced services to the elderly and did not want to report this decrease to TCSG. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain of the differences between those that did and did not respond to the survey. In spite of these limitations inherent in any mail survey, it yielded substantial and valuable information on legal services for the elderly that has never before been compiled. Further, it provides important insights into the impact that the LSC cuts and restrictions and the potential OAA changes are having on legal assistance to vulnerable elders.

Acknowledgments & Introduction  |   Methodology  |  Highlights of Findings & Implications for Action  |  Discussion of Survey Highlights  |  Report of Survey Findings by Respondent Type  |  Conclusion

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