Provide Legal Services
Legal aid organizations should treat those seeking assistance and clients accepted for services with dignity and sensitivity. Effective representation begins with a relationship of mutual trust and respect. A legal aid organization should continually strive to maximize the effectiveness of its services and to achieve meaningful and lasting results on behalf of clients.
The examples, models, and resources provided below are aimed to help your legal aid organization:
- Provide client access and conduct intake
- Engage diverse populations
- Provide language access
- Represent clients effectively
- Manage and supervise legal work
- Engage volunteers
- Assist unrepresented people in your community
Continuing during COVID-19
Here are some ways legal aid organizations can continue serving clients while the coronavirus pandemic continues to create new and challenging obstacles:
- Legal aid organizations can use their websites to notify clients of office hour changes and their latest legal rights via simple website banners and FAQ pages.
- Attorneys can reach clients remotely and offer free, and fast, help by launching hotlines to share COVID-19 legal information or advice.
Generally, the first contact an organization has with prospective clients is through the intake process. It is important that the organization's intake system be welcoming to applicants, foster confidence in its services, accurately identify the applicant's legal needs, and promptly determine the assistance to be provided. An effective intake system offers multiple portals for access:
- Walk-in and outreach
It is most efficient if an online or telephone triage system is used to direct persons who are not eligible for services to another service provider early in the process. Clear priorities and case acceptance guidelines are essential to a streamlined system.
Effective use of technology is essential for an efficient intake system. For example, online intake can offer opportunities for low-income people to seek or apply for help outside of office hours and during holidays, and can save them valuable time in finding out whether they even qualify for free legal aid.
An effective legal aid organization is known to and has the trust of the low-income community in its service area. It is engaged with all segments of the low-income community, including those living in geographically isolated areas, those with access difficulties, and persons with limited English-speaking ability. Special populations include:
- Agricultural workers
- Native Americans
- Residents of rural areas
- Non-English speakers
Legal aid organizations should also take steps to ensure that they are reaching the underserved populations in their service areas through a variety of means, such as:
- Information on a website
- Social media
- Outreach events
- Legal education and clinics at locations that these populations access the most
Legal aid organizations should strive to offer services in a culturally competent manner to those who come from diverse cultures in the service area. This includes, to the extent possible, having staff who are bilingual in the most frequently spoken languages other than English.
A good limited English proficiency plan should lay out the procedures for assisting those who speak other languages and ensure sufficient resources to support adequate interpretation and translation services.
The organization's legal representation should be geared to achieving the client's objectives and obtaining lasting outcomes. In order to address the community's most pressing legal needs, the organization should focus its advocacy strategically. This can be accomplished by:
- Establishing priorities, goals and strategies, and projected outcomes
- Allocating resources correspondingly
To ensure high-quality legal services for low-income people in your service area, it is important to have standards and systems in place that provide guidance for:
- Effective case management
- Adherence to practice standards
- Training and staff development
Policies for case management can also establish areas of responsibility and minimum expectations for all staff. This ensures regular communication between staff, as well as between staff and management.
Legal aid organizations have utilized a number of methods to engage volunteers in their work, not only as a way to expand services to clients but also to involve and invest the community in providing access to justice to the low-income population.
An effective plan to engage volunteers addresses:
- The needs of the client community and ways in which volunteers can help meet those needs
- A range of volunteer opportunities available to private attorneys, law students, and other professionals
- Strategies to recruit, train, retain, and recognize volunteers
- Methods for referral that encourage participation
- Oversight, management, and quality assurance procedures for pro bono work