Legal Services Corporation

July 1998











      On February 12, 1998, the Legal Services Corporation issued Program Letter 98-1 calling upon all LSC recipients to participate in a state planning process to examine, from a statewide perspective, what steps should be taken in their states to further develop a comprehensive, integrated statewide delivery system. The Letter poses seven questions recipients are to address and requests recipients submit a report to LSC on or before October 1, 1998. These "State Planning Considerations" provide more information about statewide goals, capacities and approaches recipients should consider in addressing these questions.

      In presenting these Planning Considerations, LSC does not intend to establish "bottom line standards." Each state is different and needs to find its own ways to strengthen and further develop its statewide system. At the same time, we believe there are enough commonalities among the states and experience within the legal services community to suggest some guideposts that may help recipients and other stakeholders in their collaborative efforts to improve and expand services to clients.

Goals of Effective Statewide Systems

      The State Planning Considerations begin with an overview of key statewide delivery goals. Central to each is the notion that effective delivery systems are responsive to the most compelling needs of eligible clients, ensure the highest and most strategic use of all available resources, and maximize the opportunity for clients throughout the state to receive timely, effective and appropriate legal services. Local input and investment are important to assure providers respond to local needs, develop local solutions where appropriate, and build support within their communities. At the same time, it is the responsibility of all legal services providers to strive together to assure no eligible client is left out of the justice system or receives less effective assistance because of geography or other factors.


      The Considerations next discuss the capacities and coordinated efforts recipients were asked to address by Program Letter 98-1. Funding limitations compel legal services providers continually to make choices among very important legal needs and possible service delivery activities, and to constantly face tradeoffs in which an increased commitment in one area may mean a lessening of emphasis in another. Accordingly, the Corporation does not expect that all states can develop every capacity in the immediate future or undertake every coordinated activity at the same time or to the same degree, especially where doing so may require acquisition or reallocation of significant and scarce resources. States must seek a reasonable balance among the areas, in light of their resources, and LSC will take into account variations in resources available to states as well as the priorities states may choose for strengthening their delivery system.


      To further assist recipients, these Considerations also present "indicators" for each of the seven topics to be addressed in the state planning process. The indicators provide examples of approaches in place or under development in many states to which state planners can look for an indication of their state's progress in each of the seven areas. The indicators should not be seen as requirements or as the only approaches possible or desirable in a given state. There may be a variety of other activities which a statewide system of legal services providers may choose to undertake on a statewide basis in a particular state, and the Corporation encourages states to do so.

System Configuration

      Finally, these Planning Considerations present a framework and indicators for planners to consider as they analyze whether the present configuration of programs currently achieves, and will in the future, achieve the best possible results for clients. The Corporation remains committed to development of integrated delivery systems in each state and encourages recipients to consider carefully whether the present design and configuration of programs facilitates development of an integrated system that reflects the goals and capacities presented in these Planning Considerations.


      The Corporation encourages development of statewide civil legal services delivery systems which are responsive to the most compelling needs of eligible clients, ensure the highest and most strategic use of all available resources, and maximize the opportunity for clients throughout the state to receive timely, effective and appropriate legal services. In accordance with prevailing professional norms, such a system should:


      State planning should be a continuous, forward-looking process. There is no national template that can be applied, and no optimum design or configuration applicable to all states. At the same time, there are key functional capacities and coordinated efforts that, when present, and integrated into a statewide system, have been shown to enhance the effective delivery of legal services to low-income people throughout the state. Program Letter 98-1 identified the following:



      Within each state, all low-income persons should have equal access to legal services. To achieve this goal, systems must be designed to use scarce resources efficiently and to overcome barriers to access caused by geographic isolation, language, disability, age, and inaccessibility or location of the legal services office. Programs must also tailor their services to ensure meaningful access to clients with distinct needs, such as the homeless, elderly, institutionalized, immigrants, farmworkers, and Native Americans. Once potential clients seek services from legal services providers, the state delivery network should have the capacity to respond promptly, efficiently, and effectively.

      Historically, most civil legal services programs required that all persons seeking assistance have an in-office interview to determine eligibility and the extent of services to be received, even though most of these persons only needed or would only receive, information, advice, or very brief service. Such approaches have proven to be inefficient and, at times, a barrier to access itself. Many legal services programs have replaced these historic walk-in methods with telephone intake and delivery systems which provide high quality advice and brief service, and promptly refer clients whose problems require more assistance to program case handlers or other resources. These telephone delivery systems permit clients to obtain help without traveling to an office, extend service to persons who previously would not have received any help, and free casehandlers to spend more time on extended service cases.

      In a number of states, statewide or regional systems, using advanced telephone and computer technology, have consolidated some or all of these intake, advice and referral functions in one location where trained, experienced staff provide prompt access for and assistance to clients. Some of these systems have a single or primary point of entry which lessens confusion among clients about where to seek assistance while allowing coordination of services, avoiding duplication, and conserving resources among providers.

      In states or regions where state planners believe a single intake, advice and referral system may not be appropriate, providers should find other ways to link their intake and delivery systems to provide prompt and even access for low-income persons throughout the state. At a minimum, all providers must have efficient, responsive systems and coordinate on such matters as publicity, case acceptance, intake and referral policies.

      Finally, while legal services offices within the state may have special programs to deal with the legal needs of special client populations such as immigrants, farmworkers and Native Americans, offices without these special programs must coordinate how the legal needs of these persons and others who experience disproportionate access barriers will be met.


      In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the state's delivery network, as well as to develop strategies to maximize client access, efficient delivery and high quality legal assistance, state planners may wish to consider whether:

Intake, Advice and Referral Systems Are Coordinated and Skilled Personnel Provide Prompt, Responsive, Intake, Advice, and Referral.

Programs Have Taken Collective Action To Overcome Barriers to Client Access to Legal Services.

Special Population Clients Are Able to Gain Access to Legal Services Throughout the State.



      Effective use of technology can significantly increase low-income persons' access to assistance, improve the effectiveness and efficiency of legal work within programs, and enhance coordination among legal services providers and related organizations and individuals.

      Technology can expand the access of low-income persons to legal assistance by increasing the amount of advice and brief service, community legal education materials and pro se assistance available. Intake, advice and referral systems that take advantage of technology to provide prompt advice, referrals and brief service hold the promise of serving more persons more quickly with the same or similar resources devoted to traditional intake structures. Web sites, intranets and related technologies can make community legal education and pro se materials much more broadly available than they have been. While the access of low-income persons to the Web is currently limited, libraries, schools and providers of other social services are rapidly obtaining this capacity, providing public access to citizens and alerting low-income persons to pertinent information.

      The efficiency and effectiveness of legal work within a program may be improved by augmenting casehandlers' access to legal information and expertise, strengthening legal work management, and increasing communication and coordination within a program. Computers linked to the Internet increase access to legal information and expertise by allowing access to computerized statutory and case materials, legal research materials, brief and pleadings banks and by linking casehandlers and task forces through e-mail and similar connectivity. Supervision of legal work and overall coordination of program advocacy are made considerably easier by the presence of networked case management software and e-mail access to all casehandlers.

      Similarly, the capacity of a legal services programs to be in touch with other legal services professionals, professionals in related fields, community organizations, and private bar members potentially or currently working on pro bono projects is considerably enhanced by e-mail, Web access and other related technologies. This capacity can result in shared information and expertise and expanded opportunities for coordinated efforts and joint projects.

      This potential has the best chance of being realized if all legal services providers within the state work together to expand resources and secure necessary expertise to establish compatible systems that are coordinated and non-duplicative.


      In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the state's technological capacities as well as in developing strategies to improve or expand technological capacities, state planners may wish to consider whether:

Advocates and Programs Have the Necessary Technological Capacity.

Materials Are Put on the Web for Use by Low-Income Persons and Social Services Providers.

Programs' Technological Infrastructure Supports Telephone Intake and Brief Advice Systems.

Casehandlers Have Electronic Access to Legal Information and Expertise.

Private Bar Involvement Efforts Make Effective Use of Technology.




      Equal access to justice has long been a cornerstone of the Legal Services Corporation Act and a critical part of the mission of legal services programs. Reductions in federal funds coupled with the increase in client needs have required the legal services community to develop or use new approaches in order to address the need of low-income persons for access to information, services, courts, and other dispute resolution forums and processes.

      Several states have developed successful pro se and access-to-courts projects. Because of the influence of state laws and rules affecting such initiatives, individual providers, working alone, often have to make intensive efforts to implement such strategies. In many instances, positive results can be realized more easily by coordinated state level efforts. Collaboration with state bar committees and state judicial administrators can result in rule changes, development of uniform practices and procedures, publication and dissemination of pro se oriented materials and the development of a more accessible court system.

      Coordinated state level efforts to develop self-help and community education materials can provide similar benefit to clients. In some states, legal services programs, state bar associations and others have collaborated to develop, maintain, and distribute (in some instances, electronically) a range of legal information useful to low-income persons. These efforts are a cost effective way to provide information that can help low-income persons avoid or resolve legal problems by themselves.


      In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the state's access-to-justice capacity as well as in developing strategies to expand or to improve upon existing capacities in this area, state planners may wish to consider whether:

Community Education Materials, Information, and Instruction Are Prepared and Maintained in a Coordinated Manner and Made Readily Available Throughout the State.

Pro Se Projects Are Developed Collaboratively and Structured to Provide Effective Assistance to the Low-Income Community.

State Based Efforts Are Undertaken With Other Stakeholders to Promote Access to Justice in the State.




      Provision of high quality legal services requires a competent and knowledgeable staff. This, in turn, requires on-going training and professional development, resource materials, timely updates about legal developments and strategies, and co-counseling or other expert assistance on complex client matters. Most programs individually lack the resources and capacities to ensure their staff are provided necessary training, information and related professional assistance. Further, it is not efficient or effective for each program in a state to separately attempt to address the needs of their staffs in these areas.

      Clients are better served and all programs in a state are more effective, economical and efficient, if the staff expertise and other resources of all providers are strategically coordinated to meet the training and professional development needs of staff throughout the state. Effective coordination allows for the identification and use of all available resources, minimizes duplication, facilitates appropriate division of labor, and assures more efficient use of scarce resources.


      In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the state's training and legal work coordination capacities as well as in developing strategies to expand or to improve upon existing capacities in this area, state planners may wish to consider whether:

Advocates Have Access to Adequate and Appropriate Training and Opportunities for Professional Development.

Legal Work is Coordinated and Information Is Shared.




      Private attorney involvement is a critical element of any integrated and coordinated legal services delivery system that is committed to ensuring the highest and best use of all available resources. Many states, employing a variety of techniques, have been successful in enlisting the state Bar, the judiciary and others in developing and supporting private attorney involvement throughout the state. Coordinated recruitment, training and recognition of pro bono attorneys have also increased participation and helped local programs expand the range and types of services available to clients. Cooperative efforts among providers can also result in engagement of pro bono attorneys across program boundaries and otherwise help overcome the difficulties rural programs may encounter in recruiting attorneys where there may be relatively few practicing lawyers in the area.


      In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs' private bar involvement efforts and in developing statewide capacities to expand or improve upon statewide efforts in this area, state planners may wish to consider whether:

Participation and Recruitment of Private Attorneys Is Considered From a Statewide Perspective.

Training and Utilization of Technology Supports Private Bar Involvement Efforts.

Activities Support the Recruitment/Retention of PAI Attorneys.



      Over the past twenty years, legal services programs have developed strong relationships with local bar associations, individual attorneys, governmental entities, and funders to help generate resources to expand the delivery of civil legal services to the poor. While local fundraising efforts continue to be an important revenue source for programs, coordinated, statewide fundraising efforts offer the opportunity to raise significant, additional funds and often are a critical source of revenue for programs in areas without the economic base to support local fundraising campaigns.

      In many states recipients have succeeded, through collective efforts of programs and stakeholders, to develop and expand revenues for all programs through state appropriations, filing fee surcharges, state fundraising campaigns, state bar dues checkoffs, increased attorney registration fees, direct state bar grants, and support for statewide projects from foundations and corporations.

      The pending challenge to IOLTA funding makes it even more important that recipients evaluate the possibilities for further resource development and diversification and develop a statewide strategy to preserve, build, and create new financial and non-financial resources in their states.


      In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the state's resource development efforts and in developing strategies to improve or expand upon statewide capacities in this area, state planners may wish to consider whether:

Coordinated Statewide Efforts, Involving All Stakeholders, Are Undertaken To Preserve, Build and Create New Resources that Assist All Programs.



      No single delivery structure or configuration fits all states. Each state has its own demography, geography, resources and history, and state planners must take into account these and other factors when determining what configuration maximizes services for clients. However, in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the current system configuration, it is critical that state planners focus on the future rather than the past. History and prior decisions by LSC and others are not of themselves sufficient to justify the status quo. Given the significant changes in the legal services landscape, state planners must take a fresh look, from a statewide perspective, and ask if the present configuration currently achieves, and will in the future, achieve the best possible results for clients.

      In some states it may be possible to develop and implement statewide initiatives to improve service delivery, increase resources and enhance the capacity of the system to meet the civil legal needs of low-income people throughout the state without altering service areas or historical relationships. In other states, implementation of such initiatives requires reconfiguration of organizational relationships and service areas. An effective state planning process will carefully assess whether the present and future needs of clients will best be served by the current configuration or whether changes are required to achieve an integrated system that reflects the goals and capacities presented in these State Planning Considerations.


      In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the current configuration of legal services programs, and determining what, if any, changes are needed to develop and implement the capacities discussed above, state planners may wish to consider whether:

The State Delivery System Is Designed and Configured to Maximize Access for Clients Throughout the State.

The State Delivery System Is Designed and Configured to Maximize Effective Legal Services to Clients Throughout the State.

The State Delivery System Is Designed and Configured to Makes the Highest and Best Use of Available Resources.

The State Delivery System Is Designed and Configured To Encourage Innovation in the Delivery of Legal Services Accompanied by Appropriate Evaluation of Results.

The State Delivery System Is Designed and Configured to Respond Effectively and Efficiently to New and Emerging Client Needs and Other Changes Affecting the Delivery of Legal Services to the Poor.