Sustainable economic growth and access to justice have a symbiotic relationship: without one, the other cannot exist, it cannot flourish. Without effective access to justice people’s potential cannot be unleashed. “The inability to resolve legal problems diminishes access to economic opportunity, reinforces the poverty trap, and undermines human potential and inclusive growth.” (OECD)
This week, first the first time ever, access to justice is a priority at the OGP Summit. Later this week, Ministers of Finance will meet as part of the G20 to determine the world’s development priorities. Today, grassroots justice advocate Nelson Mandela would have turned 100. Despite these momentous occasions, access to justice, and specifically grassroots and legal empowerment approaches, remain chronically underfunded.
Funding the activists and organizations who help people access justice is not just morally right, it is economically smart. Let’s take a look at two studies from this decade that help make the economic case for investing in legal empowerment.
In 2010, a cost-benefit analysis was performed in the UK to understand how civil justice problems and their downstream costs could be mitigated by advice. For ever $1 of legal advice spent on key public services (housing, debt, benefits, and employment), the government could save around $2-$8. Advice on these services had positive impacts on homelessness, poor health outcomes, work productivity, and client financial gains.
A 2018 study in Canada surveyed lawyers and clients and compared the costs of different resolution processes for family law disputes. Legal empowerment solutions like collaboration and mediation created a social return on investment five times greater than formal litigation. The findings of the study additionally suggested that, compared to formal litigation, legal empowerment solutions:
Took half as long to resolve a dispute;
Cost half as much to resolve a dispute; and
Achieved better results for clients.
Legal empowerment: a cost-effective solution
The studies above provide examples of situations where legal empowerment proved to be a cost-effective and cost-saving approach to several different types of social challenges.
Despite this evidence, grassroots justice approaches unfortunately remain chronically underfunded. All governments made a commitment to achieve “justice for all” by 2030 in the SDGs. The day the SDGs were announced, many sectors around the world saw new bold funding commitments. Access to justice, and especially grassroots approaches and legal empowerment, did not see a penny.
We’d love to hear from you! What are some examples of the economic case for investment in legal empowerment in your context? In what ways can we make the case to funders to invest more in legal empowerment approaches to access to justice?