LSC’s 2021-2024 Strategic Plan outlines the three strategic goals identified by the Board of Directors that will guide it for the next four years.
Part I: Executive Summary
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent, non-profit organization established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. LSC was founded on the shared American ideal of access to justice regardless of one’s economic status. LSC is the largest single funder of civil legal services to the poor in the United States.LSC is a grant-making organization, distributing nearly 94% of its federal appropriation to eligible, nonprofit organizations delivering civil legal aid. LSC grantees handle the basic civil legal needs of the poor, addressing matters involving safety, subsistence, and family stability. Most legal aid practices focus on family law, including domestic violence, child support and custody, and on housing matters, including evictions and foreclosures.
The LSC Mission
The United States Congress, in the declaration of purpose of the Legal Services Corporation Act, found that “there is a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our Nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances,” that “there is a need to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel,” and that “providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate legal counsel will serve best the ends of justice and assist in improving opportunities for low-income persons.” In keeping with this mandate, LSC has established these Strategic Goals to support implementing its mission:
To promote equal access to justice in our nation and to provide high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons.
The Current Landscape
LSC’s 2017 Justice Gap study showed that 86% of the civil legal problems faced by low-income Americans received no or inadequate assistance. While we cannot project with certainty the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the demand for civil legal services in the next several years, a variety of factors strongly suggest that the increase in the need will be substantial. First, millions of Americans sank into poverty, resulting in more people qualified for LSC’s services, and the economic damage associated with the pandemic will likely keep more in poverty for a longer period. Second, the civil legal needs of low-income Americans have surged, especially in areas served by LSC grantees, including health care, unemployment, evictions, and domestic violence. Third, the state, local, and private financial resources previously available to fund LSC grantees’ services have fallen, even as the needs for those services have increased. Fourth, legal aid programs must meet the increased demand while providing their services remotely. In this environment, LSC is working with its grantees to do more with less to support low-income Americans who seek equal access to justice.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the public health restrictions imposed in response, have had a disproportionate effect on the poor, not only in terms of health outcomes but also in the economic impact caused by loss of housing, jobs, and benefits. This is especially true among the urban poor, which also tends to include disproportionately persons of color and the elderly, populations that LSC grantees routinely serve.
LSC’s 2021 – 2024 Strategic Plan outlines the three strategic goals identified by the Board of Directors that will guide it for the next four years.
Implementing this Strategic Plan
LSC will hold itself accountable for results, just as it holds its grantees accountable. Each strategic goal includes specific initiatives that will be implemented to make progress against each goal and the Strategic Plan as a whole. Annually, LSC will publish actions taken towards implementing this 2021 – 2024 Strategic Plan.
This report outlines activities implemented by LSC during calendar year 2021.
Part II: Introduction
History: About the Creation of the Legal Services Corporation
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was created on July 25, 1974, when President Richard Nixon signed the Legal Services Corporation Act. The statute passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. LSC was the successor to the Legal Services Program, which was part of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) created by President Lyndon Johnson as a part of his War on Poverty
About the Legal Services Corporation
LSC is an independent non-profit organization established by Congress to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. LSC is the largest single funder of civil legal services to the poor in the United States. LSC is a grant-making organization, distributing nearly 94% of its federal appropriation to eligible, nonprofit organizations delivering civil legal aid. LSC awards grants through a competitive process and currently funds 132 independent legal aid organizations. With more than 850 offices nationwide, these organizations serve hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals, children, families, seniors, and veterans in every congressional district. LSC grantees handle the basic civil legal needs of the poor, addressing matters involving safety, subsistence, and family stability. Most legal aid practices focus on family law, including domestic violence, child support and custody, and on housing matters, including evictions and foreclosures.
Legal Services Corporation Leadership
An eleven-member Board of Directors governs LSC. Each Board member is appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate to serve a three-year term. By law, the Board is bipartisan; no more than six members may be of the same political party. The current Board includes leaders from across the country with a wealth of professional experience at major law firms, law schools, and civil legal aid providers; two Board members are client-eligible representatives. The Board is responsible for electing the Chair and Vice Chair of the Board and for hiring the President of the Corporation. The President oversees LSC’s staff and is responsible for the final approval of all awards made to the Corporation’s grantees. LSC’s current senior management has considerable experience in both the public and private sectors. Since 1988, LSC has been overseen by its own Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG’s primary goals are to assist management in identifying ways to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the activities and operations of LSC and its grantees and to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse.
The Shared Values of the Legal Services Corporation
LSC was founded on a shared American ideal: access to justice regardless of one’s economic status. In the Preamble to the United States Constitution, the Framers recognized that to “establish justice” was a primary goal of the new Republic. As James Madison explained in Federalist 51: “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” America’s promise of liberty is rooted in the availability of justice for all, which can only be realized when all have access to the system that administers justice.
Congress recognized this in its finding and declaration of purpose in the Legal Services Corporation Act: “...for many of our citizens, the availability of legal services has reaffirmed faith in our government of laws.” In his address at the LSC’s 40th Anniversary, the late Justice Antonin Scalia reminded us of the full meaning of this promise: “The American ideal is not for some justice, it is as the Pledge of Allegiance says, ‘Liberty and justice for all,’ or as the Supreme Court pediment has it, ‘equal justice.’ ... Equality, equal treatment, is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice.” Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has similarly remarked: “Justice for only those who can afford it is neither justice for all nor justice at all.”
Part III: Strategic Goals
LSC’s 2021 – 2024 Strategic Plan outlines the three strategic goals that will guide it for the next four years:
- Maximize the availability, quality, and effectiveness of the services its grantees provide to eligible low-income individuals by working with grantees to improve their organizational and operational capacity.
- Expand LSC’s role as a convener and leading voice for access to justice and increased civil legal services for eligible persons living in poverty in the United States.
- Achieve the highest standards of management, business operations, and fiscal responsibility.
This section includes an overview of each strategic goal and the initiatives identified to implement each strategic goal.
Strategic Goal One: Maximize the availability, quality, and effectiveness of the services grantees provide to eligible low-income individuals by working with grantees to improve their organizational and operational capacity.
Maintenance of the rule of law is, and always has been, a central purpose of the American Republic. The rule of law requires an opportunity to vindicate one’s legal rights, which often requires legal assistance to those who need it the most. To achieve this goal, LSC must collaborate with grantees, client communities, other legal aid providers, and experts in the field of non-profit management to afford its grantees the resources, tools, and management expertise to reach and assist their clients most effectively.
- Design, develop, and launch “LSC University”, which will provide on-demand resources focusing on LSC’s Performance Criteria, LSC regulatory requirements, non-profit leadership and management, and board governance. LSC University will also become a repository to feature Model Practices and Innovations of LSC grantees and curriculum from external partner organizations.
- Develop and provide training designed to enable client eligible board members to serve as grantee board members and to develop their leadership skills.
- In collaboration with grantees, and mindful of existing resources, conduct a gap analysis on a regular basis to identify emerging training and technical assistance needs.
- Utilize virtual workshops, webinars, LSC’s Model Practices and Innovations initiative, LSC board meetings and Access to Justice Forums, and regional and national meetings and conferences regularly to share model practices and innovations.
- Identify, validate, and disseminate model practices and innovations related to the use of technology to support and improve client intake, the delivery of civil legal services, and organizational efficiency.
- Encourage grantees to continue to collaborate with non-traditional partners such as hospitals, housing boards, schools, libraries, mental health facilities, rehabilitation clinics, veterans centers, community centers and foster care programs to provide more efficient service to clients in addressing civil legal needs.
- Promote peer support and collaboration to ensure that model practices, innovations, and lessons learned are routinely shared and disseminated among grantees.•Promote private attorney involvement (PAI) with grantees, including a review in collaboration with grantees of the effectiveness of the recent changes to the PAI rule.
- Continue to identify, refine and streamline regulatory requirements that may unduly burden grantees.
- Undertake, in consultation with grantees, Native American communities, and subject matter experts in relevant native American issues, a comprehensive analysis of LSC’s Native American service areas and its Native American allocations to assess whether: (1) any Native American services areas need to be redrawn, and (2) LSC needs to adjust the grant allocations to those service areas.•Continue to promote effective and efficient legal services to Agricultural Workers.
- Update, in consultation with grantees, client communities, and national partners, LSC’s Performance Criteria to ensure they reflect the evolving landscape of service delivery in a post-pandemic environment.
- Assess grantees’ capacity to satisfy the various elements of LSC’s Performance Criteria to better support grantees and foster improved client services.
- Provide leadership in the legal services field for the development and analysis of outcome, needs and efficiency measures to help legal aid programs identify and monitor effective services, benchmark performance, and improve services to people in need.
- Continue to clearly communicate LSC’s high standards for grants management, including programmatic, regulatory compliance, and fiscal accountability, for all grantees.
- Continue to benchmark and evaluate best practices in non-profit grant making, oversight, and grantee training and technical assistance.
- Continue to train grantees on the use of LSC’s new grants management system, GrantEase, and to identify opportunities for improvements in its use.
- Foster a culture of compliance through educational, training, and outreach efforts, and collaboration with grantees.
- Rollout and train grantees on LSC’s revised Financial Management Guide.
- Recommend internal control improvements in grant programs and recommend practical solutions to improve the stewardship of LSC funds.
- Continually refine LSC’s risk assessment instrument to prioritize and ensure oversight efforts are appropriately targeted.
- Assess and analyze opportunities to create efficiencies and streamline oversight processes to lessen current or future burdens on grantees while safeguarding taxpayer dollars.
- Provide resources and training to ensure grantees can effectively support underserved communities in their service areas.
- Evaluate the circumstances of populations traditionally underserved by lawyers and those eligible for but not utilizing LSC-funded services.
- Develop guidelines as part of the Performance Criteria to foster grantees’ awareness of the diverse cultural and other contexts in which clients and potential clients live and work.
- Identify and work to overcome difficulties related to access to legal services experienced by eligible clients, including populations such as veterans, residents of rural communities, communities of color, people with limited English proficiency, and work to ensure that their legal needs are adequately addressed.
Strategic Goal Two: Expand the role of LSC as a convener and leading voice for civil legal services for eligible persons living in poverty in the United States.
The nation needs greater and more focused leadership in addressing the civil legal needs of the poor. As the largest single funder of civil legal services in the United States, LSC partners with 132 legal services organizations to serve every state and territory. LSC has the opportunity and obligation to expand its leadership to be a leading voice in raising awareness of the need for civil legal services and securing access to civil justice for the poor.
- Collaborating with grantees, client communities and national partners, proactively expand outreach and education efforts to the Administration and federal agencies where there is a nexus with legal services issues, for example, eviction, unemployment insurance, consumer protection, domestic violence, veterans, disaster relief.
- Proactively expand outreach and education efforts to members of Congress, and congressional staff to demonstrate the importance of legal aid services.
- Continue to develop and promote annual congressional budget requests that would significantly reduce the Justice Gap between the unmet civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to address those needs.
- Support and encourage the expansion of grantee outreach efforts to educate members of Congress and congressional staff.
- Expand the use of data and research to increase outreach and advocacy efforts with different audiences, for example, the Justice Gap and Eviction Studies.
- Working with grantees, expand grantee client stories and leverage output data to communicate the impact and benefits of LSC’s grants, e.g., through the Disaster Relief Emergency Supplemental appropriations grants, Technology Initiative Grants (TIG), and the Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) grants.
- Include and elevate the voices of clients in national discussions about access to justice.
- Develop communications outreach strategies to target local news, specialty, and social media outlets to reach members of Congress, other stakeholders, and the public.
- Identify and engage partners outside of the traditional legal services community such as nonprofits serving low-income people, the business community, judges, law schools, faith-based organizations, and leaders across a wide range of disciplines. Utilize the LSC Task Forces to amplify outreach and to publicize LSC grantees work and critical resources related to new and emerging issues.
- In addition to ongoing outreach efforts, build a strategic, year-long, multi-pronged public awareness campaign around LSC’s 50th Anniversary to celebrate its achievements, build awareness, and educate stakeholders on the continuing demand for civil legal aid, the Justice Gap, and future initiatives. The campaign will include various events, themed briefings, social media campaigns, podcasts, and other outreach activities.
- Promote the development and expansion of the role that members of LSC’s Leaders Council and Emerging Leaders Council can play to raise public awareness of the civil legal aid crisis.
- Collaborate with other funders, legal services providers, national partners, bar associations, state judicial associations, the business community, and nonprofits on issues affecting the provision of civil legal services to the poor.
- Identify and nurture partnerships with national, state, and local foundations to expand private support to civil legal aid programs and LSC special initiatives.
- Foster and increase support from law firms and corporations to advocate for additional support for LSC projects and Board Task Forces.
- Identify new programmatic and research opportunities beyond what is supported by congressional appropriations and connect with potential funders.
- Initiate plans for LSC’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2024.
- Encourage funders and donors to support grantees.
Strategic Goal Three: Achieve the highest standards of management, business operations, and fiscal responsibility.
The United States Congress entrusts LSC with funds collected from the American taxpayer. To live up to that trust and justify further confidence, LSC is a prudent steward of the resources allocated to it. LSC should be a model of fiscal responsibility, strong professional management, and operational excellence. LSC is dedicated to effectively engaging the full talents and abilities of its diverse workforce and cultivating a community built on trust, openness, and transparency.
- Maintain best fiscal practices with strong internal controls and adherence to non-profit and government standards.
- Maintain best practices to ensure excellence and transparency for regulatory compliance.
- Manage and maintain LSC’s budget to ensure appropriate programmatic support with agility to address shifting and emerging needs.
- Continue to train staff on the use and features of LSC’s new NetSuite accounting system and continue to identify opportunities to take advantage of the new system.
- Create and revise core resources, such as the Accounting Manual, to train staff to effectively use the new accounting system.
- Maintain a strong, cooperative, and productive relationship with the Office of Inspector General.
- Maintain full compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and the Sunshine Act.
- Encourage continuity of governance at LSC to maintain institutional history through practices such as the sequencing of Board appointments.
- Continue the practice of having experts (who are not LSC Board Members) in accounting, finance, and other relevant disciplines serve on LSC Board committees.
- Maintain and support a strong management team that models collaborative leadership practices that are equitable and inclusive; that engage, develop, and coach staff to perform at their best; and that lead teams to produce excellent results.
- Continue development and exercise of the Continuity of Operations Plan to ensure LSC business continues at all times, no matter the circumstance.
- Maintain a strong and productive relationship with the LSC union.
- Assess the impact of remote working arrangements, including the need for competent and productive work as well as the challenges faced by employees working remotely.
- Evaluate the current staffing needs and staffing models to ensure a sufficient level of personnel to promote LSC’s mission of oversight and support of grantees.
- Cultivate robust systems to recruit, hire and onboard a dedicated, diverse, and talented workforce of senior leaders and staff committed to, and capable of, achieving positive change and delivering value to our grantees.
- Cultivate and support a culture of learning, growth, and development throughout the organization to ensure employees have the skills they need to grow and thrive in their career, allowing them to fully contribute to LSC.
- Develop and communicate shared core values and incorporate those values into messaging, policies, and procedures.
- Strengthen internal transparency through open, honest, and respectful communications.
- Promote and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, and integrate those values into LSC’s policies and practices.
- Provide ongoing training and programming to leverage LSC’s rich diversity and create a culture in which every employee feels valued and do their best work to help LSC carry out its mission.
- Assess technology and realign as needed to achieve strategic goals and accomplish operational objectives.
- Provide technology solutions that enable the seamless operation of LSC business operations across departments and provide staff with the training and resources needed to maximize safe and effective use.
- Provide secure, predictable, and resilient systems, services, and solutions that can be scaled and that ensure continued essential functions no matter the situation.
- Stay abreast of latest technology threats and countermeasures to address those threats.
- Provide staff with regular cyber security training.
- Maintain technological management systems that use data and metrics to ensure effective business operations.
- Maintain robust contract and vendor management system to ensure vendors that host or process sensitive data have adequate privacy and security safeguards in place.