Diverse Populations

An effective legal aid organization is well-known and is trusted by the low-income communities that it serves. It is engaged with all segments of the low-income community, including those living in geographically isolated areas, those with access difficulties, and those who have limited English proficiency.

Legal aid organizations should 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
A Resource Model: Mobile Clinics

Georgia's Mobile Law Units place two lawyers with laptops in community areas, where they provide legal information and help to the elderly, residents with limited English proficiency, and low-income groups in rural Georgia.

During the clinic, Georgia Legal Services Program and Atlanta Legal Aid Society staff help clients find legal information and documents on Georgia legal aid's statewide website. If the client requires extended services, staff conduct intake on site and refer the individual to an attorney at the nearest legal aid office for additional help.

Elderly

Low-income individuals age 60 and older face different legal issues. The most common are:

  • Guardianship issues that arise when family members or a nursing home believe an elderly person is no longer capable of handling their personal and financial affairs
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) overpayment cases that arise when the Social Security Administration alleges that it paid too much money to an individual because the individual was employed while receiving SSI or for other reasons may have received more than the correct amount
  • Reverse mortgage issues that arise when an elderly person has borrowed against the equity in the home
  • Home equity stripping scams and foreclosure rescue scams that result in the elderly "selling" their home for the price of a loan rather than refinancing in order to save the home
  • Consumer cases in which creditors, debt buyers, or scammers attempt to attach income that is protected from collection such as Social Security

Legal Planning for Seniors

As part of its efforts to better serve the elderly population in its service area, the Senior Citizens’ Law Project of the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM) uses a specially designed packet of materials when meeting with elderly groups and individuals.

The packet—which includes information on planning ahead for the possibility of incapacity, medical assistance and long-term care in Minnesota, a power of attorney fact sheet, a health care directive toolkit, and more—is a tool to help guide the discussion during the meetings with elder groups and individuals, as well as groups of social workers.

In each meeting, the LASNEM attorney hands out the packet as a reference for people rather than reading it aloud or going through it page by page. The attorney tells the people that the topics inside the packet are topics that many of LASNEM’s clients want to know about. Then, depending on what the group is focusing on, the attorney will have them look at the corresponding section in the packet and perhaps go through it in detail or just focus on the highlights.

LASNEM has found that this Q&A format to the meetings, paired with the use of the legal planning packet, keeps the audience engaged and the discussion guided—the attorney can switch topics and reference different parts of the packet at will.

Farm Workers

The Migration Policy Institute created an interactive map on immigrant populations that provides national and state-by-state data comparisons from the 1990 and 2000 censuses and the 2011 American Community Survey.

Each state has four fact sheets:

  1. Demographics and social
  2. Language and education
  3. Workforce
  4. Income and poverty

Our Migrant Service Policy Letter, drafted in June 2000, reconfirms expectations for migrant legal services projects. The letter establishes the responsibilities assigned to migrant projects and basic field grants in addition to establishing the expectations for an effective farm worker program.

In order to fully serve client needs, organizations are expected to:

  • Have high-quality, experienced, and informed advocates
  • Be well managed
  • Accomplish effective outreach
  • Accomplish effective community legal education for farm workers
  • Have effective support for advocacy
  • Have effective capacity for training
  • Be part of a coordinated system of service with a capacity to provide a full range of service to farm workers

Residents of Rural Areas

In 2003, LSC organized the Rural Issues and Delivery Symposium Conference to serve as a starting point to facilitate and support the development of a more integrated and networked rural delivery system to overcome barriers encountered by those in rural areas.

"A Report on Rural Issues and Delivery" highlights the issues and barriers discussed at the conference. Attendees also discussed noteworthy policies and projects, recognizing that knowledge sharing through replicating best practices can contribute to improving the delivery of legal aid in geographically isolated areas.

View resources and projects from legal aid organizations addressing access to justice in rural areas.

Homeless

The U.S. Conference of Mayors releases an annual report titled "Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities." The 2015 report is the result of a survey of 22 cities to determine the extent and causes of hunger and homelessness and provide an overview of the emergency food assistance and homeless services provided between September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2015.

Key findings included:

  • Sixty-six percent of the survey cities reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year
  • The total number of homeless persons increased across the survey cities by an average of 1.6 percent
  • City officials identified lack of affordable housing as the leading cause of homelessness among families with children, followed by poverty, unemployment, and low-paying jobs

Central Jersey Legal Services Is Eliminating Homelessness in One New Jersey County Through a Coordinated Assessment Program

With a phone call to 211, a homeless individual or family can get screened, prioritized, and referred to the appropriate shelter and services in Middlesex County, New Jersey. This is important, considering the location.

According to Middlesex County’s “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness”:

“Middlesex County, located at the center of New Jersey, faces unique challenges in addressing the issues of homelessness among individuals and families. With 25 municipalities ranging from urban centers to farmland communities, Middlesex County is home to a diverse population in socio-economic status, racial/ethnic background, and community type.”

The Code Blue Program: A Multidisciplinary Approach Enables Central Jersey Legal Services to Help Shelter More Homeless Individuals During the Winter Months

In an effort to provide shelter for the homeless during the cold winter months, and to get chronically homeless individuals housed, Central Jersey Legal Services (CJLS) worked with the Continuum of Care in Union County, New Jersey to establish the Code Blue Program in 2010.

The Continuum of Care is a cooperative group made up of county officials, service providers, and CJLS staff. The group pushed the county and each other to come up with a plan for a number of years.

In addition to trying to shelter the homeless and prevent death and injury from hypothermia during the winter months, the program seeks to get as many homeless individuals into the service network as possible and get eligible homeless individuals approved for state-funded welfare and emergency assistance.

Legal Aid on Wheels: A Legal Aid Society of Hawaii Initiative Helps Hawaii’s Homeless Population

Serving a service area with one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness—paired with the highest per capita living costs—in the country, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s (LASH’s) homeless outreach program fills a critical need.

The program provides holistic civil legal services to Hawaii’s homeless population, which totaled 7,921 people in 2015. Its services address family, consumer, housing, immigration, and public benefits concerns, but most of the cases focus on Social Security benefits and identification documentation.

The homeless outreach program team includes one managing attorney, one senior attorney, two paralegals, and one AmeriCorps volunteer. What’s unique about the team is how they work and assist clients—on wheels. All of the staff are fully remote—though they might come into one of LASH’s offices once a week—and drive mostly around Oahu, stopping at various locations such as homeless shelters, health centers, recovery centers, and veteran services sites.

At these sites, the outreach team conducts intake and completes brief services, such as Social Security applications and appeals. By meeting potential clients at these common points of contact, the outreach team fosters trust and accessibility for individuals who may have barriers to visit LASH’s main offices. If the team doesn’t come to them, it’s possible the client would never or would put off getting the help they need to confront their legal situation.

According to a LASH senior attorney in a Honolulu Star Adviser article, “Typically [homeless people] are not able to show up for a court hearing. They don’t have the money to get there. They often don’t have identification to get into the building if they need that. And sometimes, the reality is they don’t remember what day or time their hearing is. They are just trying to focus on basic needs—how they are going to eat today and to keep their stuff safe when they go to the bathroom.”

LASH staff members at work in the field.

LASH staff members at work in the field.

While the staff’s method of transportation is their own vehicles, LASH pays for access to hot spots, their phones, computers, and other necessary technology. Sometimes they are assisted by staff from community health centers, who join for ride-alongs and provide medical assistance while the LASH staff member provides legal assistance. This partnership has been in place since the beginning of the program, acting as an effective, mobile alternative to the more common medical-legal partnerships, which are set up across the country.

Homelessness in Hawaii is a persistent issue, but with efforts such as LASH’s homeless outreach program that meet clients where they are, the cycle of homelessness can be broken for many.

Fresh Opportunity Program

When it became clear that persistent barriers to shelter and employment often extended beyond financial constraints, Central Jersey Legal Services partnered with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness to form the Fresh Opportunity Program in 2010. 

The program has two principle goals:

  1. Removing court-imposed barriers to shelter and employment when the barrier arises from non-felony offenses
  2. Connecting clients to a coordinated system that will transition the homeless into effective case management and support services where needed

Veterans

Veterans and their families face unique circumstances, which can become larger legal issues when they are disabled or homeless. LSC-funded legal aid organizations have developed several notable initiatives to serve veterans and their families.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance, in partnership with Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, created StatesideLegal.org, a free resource for low-income military members, veterans, and their families. The website offers information on topics such as disability benefits, employment, and legal protections for service members confronted with foreclosure proceedings.

Representing Washington Veterans: Basic Legal and Cultural Concepts

In 2012, the Northwest Justice Project developed "Representing Washington Veterans: Basic Legal and Cultural Concepts," a comprehensive resource manual for attorneys working with veterans. With the assistance of Fenwick and West, the manual has since been developed into an interactive, updated, and maintained website—RepWAVets.org—available to both veterans and their advocates. The website and manual provide background information on qualifying military service, an explanation of military ranks, and techniques for working with veterans. Specific legal information is provided regarding the federal and state department of affairs, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) health care, and appealing VHA and Veterans Benefits Administration decisions.

Kentucky Corps of Advocates for Veterans

To help resolve veterans' legal issues in a collaborative, comprehensive effort, Legal Aid Society founded the Kentucky Corps of Advocates for Veterans (KCAV) in 2011 with three objectives:

  1. Provide free civil legal representation to low-income veterans who cannot otherwise afford an attorney
  2. Recruit and train volunteer attorneys to help meet the legal needs of veterans
  3. Use technology and a network of community partnerships to ensure that low-income veterans who need help are finding it

As of 2017, KCAV, which started with one attorney in the office working on veterans’ matters, now has a full veterans unit comprised of three attorneys and one paralegal. The paralegal and senior attorney—the unit supervisor—work pursuant to a Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grant leading a statewide initiative called the Volunteer Lawyers for Veterans Program. They have created a singular portal for veterans to access KCAV’s services via a 1-800 number. Veterans are also identified as they call in to KCAV’s intake unit and as they access the program online.

The other two attorneys are partially funded by Equal Justice Works and provide direct representation to veterans across the program’s 15-county service area. KCAV screens cases and places clients both with volunteer attorneys and with in-house attorneys. The attorneys handle discharge upgrades, veterans benefits, domestic relations matters, consumer cases, and just about any civil legal matter that fits KCAV’s priorities and is not restricted.

The Volunteer Lawyers for Veterans Program has been very helpful in allowing KCAV to connect with the other legal aid organizations in Kentucky—streamlining their efforts—and to ensure that it has coverage for all attorneys across Kentucky’s 120 counties.

Military and Veterans Advocacy Resources

In response to the growing need for legal assistance among veterans, Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) partnered with the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Resource Center to create the Military Legal Assistance Program website in 2009, which serves as an online resource to support volunteer lawyers who are helping veterans and active-duty military personnel. The website provides lawyers with support materials, online training, and other resources to help them assist veterans and service members in Georgia with civil legal problems.

In addition, the State Bar of Georgia, in partnership with GLSP, operates a lawyer referral program. According to its website, the program “assists service members and veterans by connecting them to State Bar members who are willing to provide free or reduced-fee legal services.”

GLSP and the State Bar of Georgia also created a toolkit for local bar associations and Bar sections with pro bono and community service project ideas to help veterans and active-duty military personnel.

Non-English Speakers

Legal aid organizations should have staff with the cultural competency and language capacity to serve low-income people in their service area who speak a language other than English or who have limited English proficiency.

A good limited English proficiency plan lays out procedures for assisting those who speak other languages and informs staff of the procedures for providing adequate interpretation and translation services.

View resources and projects about language access.