LSC Awards More Than $4 Million to Strengthen Pro Bono Efforts
WASHINGTON – The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced today that 19 legal aid organizations will receive Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants totaling $4,347,185 to expand pro bono legal services to low-income individuals. The funded projects will engage pro bono lawyers and other volunteers to better meet civil legal needs. These projects offer innovative and replicable solutions to persistent challenges in current pro bono delivery systems.
Eleven legal aid organizations are receiving new grants to significantly strengthen their pro bono efforts. Eight current Pro Bono Innovation Fund grantees are receiving supplemental funding to continue their efforts to transform pro bono delivery in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of Congress congratulated legal aid providers in their states on receiving grants.
“Pro bono work can make a life-changing difference in someone’s life,” said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. “I’m pleased this federal funding will support Legal Aid Chicago and their important work in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. I’ll continue working to support the Legal Services Corporation’s mission to ensure that all people have fair and equal access to our system of justice.”
“It’s great news that Bay Area Legal Services was awarded this Pro Bono Innovation Grant, which will help increase access to pro bono legal aid for low-income disaster survivors,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio. “Underserved and low-income communities have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure an equitable recovery for these communities.”
Many of the projects seek to remove barriers to success facing low-income Americans. Southeast Louisiana Legal Services’ funded project will help low-income tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic who experience security deposit theft.
Pro bono funding for Bay Area Legal Services will allow the organization to better meet the legal needs of disaster survivors in the Tampa Bay region. Georgia Legal Services Program will use its grant to reach low-income individuals living in rural areas of the state who otherwise have limited access to legal help.
Several of the funded projects will focus on increasing the recruitment and training of pro bono attorneys and more effectively working with existing partners. For example, Legal Services Vermont will use its grant to build a coordinated and centralized infrastructure for statewide pro bono efforts.
“Pro bono assistance enables legal aid programs to leverage their limited government-funded staff resources with privately contributed services,” said LSC President Ronald S. Flagg. “These grants fund innovative and replicable projects that promote this leverage and enable legal aid programs to help many more people in need.”
LSC awarded these grants from its $4.5 million Pro Bono Innovation Fund included in its FY 2020 congressional appropriation. The creation of the fund was recommended by LSC’s Pro Bono Task Force in 2012. This is the seventh year LSC has received a designated appropriation to award pro bono grants. In all, LSC has awarded 102 grants totaling more than $27.8 million.
The recipients of new 2020 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants are:
Bay Area Legal Services ($286,426)
Bay Area Legal Services will use the grant to support its Tampa Bay Disaster Relief Pro Bono Initiative. The project will increase access to pro bono disaster relief legal aid for 200 low-income disaster survivors residing in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties. It will work to engage 65 pro bono volunteers in disaster relief legal assistance by employing disaster-related legal training and improved technologies. The project’s goal is to deliver high-quality client legal services in the event of a disaster.
Georgia Legal Services Program ($358,305)
Georgia Legal Services Program will use the grant to build an organization-wide pro bono unit that can leverage large private firm and corporate pro bono resources in the Atlanta metro area to serve rural Georgians throughout the organization’s service area. Staff members will also develop a pilot project to use remote service delivery to reach clients living in areas without lawyers known as legal deserts.
Legal Aid Chicago ($302,515)
Legal Aid Chicago will use the grant to support its Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline project, which assists at-risk youth by helping them complete high school and gain employment or further education. Legal Aid Chicago will engage law firms, corporations and solo practitioners to provide representation for hearings on expulsions and create petitions for juvenile expungement. Staff members will conduct outreach virtually and in person to ensure parents and students understand their legal rights.
Acadiana Legal Service Corporation ($221,552)
Acadiana Legal Service Corporation will use the grant to evaluate its pro bono workflow and infrastructure to improve accountability, case referrals and handling in collaboration with bar-sponsored programs. The organization will launch a redesigned intake and pro bono system that will quickly and efficiently connect more clients to pro bono partners and volunteers. It will also conduct a pilot project with local libraries to better connect rural clients and pro bono attorneys.
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services ($170,616)
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services will use its grant to develop a clinic to help low-income tenants in New Orleans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic who experience security deposit theft. The clinic will engage pro bono attorneys, a corporate legal department and law students through limited scope and/or extended representation opportunities at all stages of a security deposit theft case, including demand, negotiation, court representation and judgment collection.
Michigan Advocacy Program ($358,600)
The Michigan Advocacy Program will use the grant to elevate and integrate pro bono in the organization’s broader service delivery model. The project aims to modernize pro bono data tracking, referrals and reporting systems with the new case management system in Michigan. To enhance efficiency, the Michigan Advocacy Program will identify needed technology and reporting capacity, update its pro bono attorney roster and integrate individual, local pro bono management with a centralized, program-wide pro bono system.
Montana Legal Services Association ($223,181)
Montana Legal Services Association will use the grant to support its Second Act Justice Project, a pro bono program for emeritus state bar members to provide legal services to low-income Montanans and mentor MLSA staff attorneys. In the first 18 months of the project, volunteers have served more than 459 clients and donated 1,391 pro bono hours. The project has expanded the scope and breadth of legal issues that MLSA staff can assist clients with.
Northeast New Jersey Legal Services ($423,074)
Northeast New Jersey Legal Services will use the grant to build a replicable and scalable model for pro bono services and tackle current challenges. This grant will allow the organization to conduct a pilot program, scale up the program’s impact by increasing opportunities for pro bono volunteers to become involved in cases and hire a data analyst to assist with this transition.
Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc. ($207,233)
Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York will use its grant to address the gap in consumer-bankruptcy services in Syracuse and surrounding counties. Volunteer attorneys will triage cases, screen and advise clients who will then be referred to pro bono attorneys, a bankruptcy clinic at Syracuse University School of Law or pro se legal clinics.
The organization will also develop an online screening and referral tool to identify candidates for student loan discharge. This tool will be created in partnership with Upsolve.org, a nonprofit that provides free online bankruptcy assistance. Where appropriate, student loan litigation will be filed with pro bono co-counsel.
Legal Services of the Hudson Valley ($211,244)
Legal Services of the Hudson Valley will use its grant to support its pro bono housing project. The goal is to engage pro bono litigators to represent clients in complex housing court cases and administrative hearings. In the first 18 months of the project, pro bono attorneys provided approximately 725 hours of free legal services to more than 100 clients. The organization also trained more than 75 large firm volunteers and created partnerships with prominent law firms.
Legal Services Vermont ($375,970)
Legal Services Vermont will use the grant to build a coordinated, centralized and sustainable infrastructure for statewide pro bono efforts in Vermont. It will collaborate with key stakeholders to develop and implement a robust statewide pro bono system using best practices for recruitment, flexible volunteer venues and effective data tracking to expand access to justice for low-income families in the state.