Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grants 2016

In 2016, we awarded the Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants to 11 organizations to support innovations in pro bono legal services. 


Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $413,088

California is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the United States with over 220 languages and 43% of Californians speaking a language other than English in their homes.  For Californians with limited English proficiency, access to justice is a particular challenge in that they “cannot access the courts without significant language assistance, cannot understand pleadings, forms or other legal documents and cannot participate meaningfully. . . without a qualified interpreter.”  Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Funded project, The Pro Bono Training Institute (PBTI) Language Access Project, focuses on addressing the needs of limited English proficient clients by providing volunteer interpreters and volunteer attorneys online language access training.  The trainings will provide guidance to legal services organizations, volunteer attorneys and volunteer interpreters on specific language access topics.  The PBTI Language Access Project will also connect volunteer interpreters with volunteer attorneys.  The PBTI Language Access Project will better serve limited English proficient individuals in communities across the state by improving and sharing volunteer resources online.  As the technology at the center of this project can be replicated and easily shared, this project may also serve as a model for other legal service organizations serving linguistically diverse client populations. 

Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $371,497

Legal Aid Society of San Diego is a recognized leader in advocacy on health law issues and is committed to supporting their client’s health law legal needs.  As part of this commitment, Legal Aid of San Diego has identified an area that is underserved and which, through its Pro Bono Innovation Funded project, In-Home Supportive Services Pro Bono Project, it hopes to address with the help of volunteer attorneys.  In-Home Supportive Services is a statewide program which provides low-income disabled individuals, many of whom are elderly, with in-home care serves.  The program allows disabled individuals to stay in their homes safely and not be forced into more expensive settings such as nursing homes or board and care facilities.  Despite the immense institutional and community interest to keep the elderly and disabled in their home and integrated into their community, the overwhelming majority of clients do not have an attorney to represent them at the In-Home Supportive Services hearing.  Legal Aid of San Diego will use volunteer attorneys to provide advice and representation to clients seeking In-Home Supportive services.  This new pro bono program will also pilot the use of a new case referral and placement system that will increase the efficiency of the process, hopefully resulting in more clients being provided services.  The use of volunteer attorneys to serve a previously underserved need, made more efficient through the use of technology, may serve as a model for other legal services organizations. 

District of Columbia

Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $386,825

Low-income residents of the District of Columbia struggle with both intermittent and long-term unemployment.  High levels of stubborn unemployment are concentrated in historically underserved, economically underdeveloped and predominantly African-American neighborhoods that lie east of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8.  While many factors contribute to these residents’ inability to obtain or retain employment, some factors can be overcome with the assistance of legal counsel.  Among these factors are poor credit histories, criminal records, student loan debts, suspended driver’s licenses, employer discrimination, unstable housing or wrongful inclusion on neglect registries.  However, DC’s legal aid and pro bono resources are concentrated on the other side of the city.  The lack of local sources of information about legal rights, coupled with the cost and difficulty of transportation from east of the River to downtown DC, means that many unemployed residents in Wards 7 and 8 do not have access to the legal counsel that would enable them to resolve these problems.  Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia’s 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund funded project, Unlocking Unemployment, will address this gap by bringing volunteer attorneys to walk-in legal clinics embedded in the east of the River public library branches that are readily accessible to community members and where residents routinely go to find assistance and computer access for their job searches.  The Unlocking Unemployment clinics will efficiently provide in-person information, advice, and referrals to jobseekers in their neighborhoods as well as provide an opportunity for those who need a higher level of legal service to connect with a legal services organization.  Through the provision of such legal assistance, Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia hopes to clear a pathway to meaningful, sustained employment and provide a model for other cities dealing with unemployment in their communities. 


Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $421,310

Atlanta Legal Aid Society is adept at creating new programs that incorporate volunteer attorneys into the provision of legal services to clients in need.  Atlanta Legal Aid has twelve pro bono projects in Atlanta and Cobb County with attorneys, law firms, law schools and corporate legal partners working with different staff for a specific client population or on a specific type of legal matter.  Building on a strong foundation for creative pro bono programming, Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund project is focused on creating web-based resources and a centralized structure for all existing and future pro bono so that there can be coordination of resources, volunteer experience, learnings, and collaboration.  By focusing on how pro bono is administered, Atlanta Legal Aid’s project will not only enhance pro bono in Atlanta but will provide best practices and a model for other legal service organizations that are trying to create an effective and efficient pro bono program.  


Indiana Legal Services, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $325,837

In 2015, Indiana Legal Services had to turn away 4,000 applicants for services because it lacked the resources and capacity to serve them.  Recognizing that establishing a pro bono program connecting volunteer attorneys to clients in need would be a good way to address the resource and capacity gap, Indiana Legal Services 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund pilot project, Indiana Pro Bono Integration, will integrate Indiana Legal Services into the state of Indiana’s existing pro bono program, which has been in existence since 1999.  By integrating itself into the existing robust pro bono structure, Indiana Legal Services will expand the current pro bono system; Indiana Legal Services’ existing community contacts and partnerships expand the number of applicants for services and the pool of volunteer lawyers.  By creating a joint approach to pro bono this project will ensure that Indiana’s communities in need will have resources to assist them.  


Iowa Legal Aid

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $364,709

In 2015, Iowa Legal Aid closed 16,203 cases that helped approximately 38,000 people.  Despite these high numbers, Iowa Legal Aid turns away or underserves approximately 10,000 people every year.  Volunteer attorneys can help address this justice gap, but Iowa Legal Aid has found its current pro bono model outdated and unable to meet the challenges of recruiting volunteer attorneys and placing a sufficient number of cases to serve the needs of low-income Iowans, especially in rural Iowa.  Iowa Legal Aid’s 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund Project, the Pro Bono Revitalization Project, will focus on creating a pro bono program, with the help of outside consultants, that will make Iowa’s pro bono program more strategic, efficient and effective in referring appropriate cases to pro bono attorneys.  The project will also work to enlist the help of judges and attorneys to educate volunteer attorneys about the benefits of pro bono services.  Through a structured and targeted approach, Iowa Legal Aid will be creating a well-supported and long-lasting pro bono program that will assist in serving clients in need and serve as a model for other legal services organizations looking to establish an effective pro bono program. 


Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $286,000

As with many legal service organizations across the country, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services is challenged in the delivery of legal assistance to low-income persons in the rural parts of its service area.  Coupled with the geographic barriers, the significant and growing immigrant and refugee populations in southern Minnesota present additional barriers to delivery.  Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services 2016 PBIF project –  a pro bono component for its “Lawyers Advancing Wellness” medical legal partnership with Open Door Health Center – will address these challenges by now including volunteer attorneys performing "legal check-ups." Through "legal check-ups" volunteer attorneys will provide advice and brief services; cases requiring extended representation will be referred to other volunteer attorneys or staff. The clinics will be located in and around the city of Mankato, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state.  With the Lawyers Advancing Wellness project, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services hopes to take its legal services to a level that will be a replicable model for collaboration around rural access and healthy outcomes through legal interventions affecting the social determinates of health.  


Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $246,034

Affordable housing is increasingly scarce in Vermont and preventing evictions is an important priority for Legal Services Law Line of Vermont.  In 2015, evictions made up 27% of the total caseload in Vermont’s Civil Division court, the highest percentage of any type of case.  Court statistics report that more than 85% of tenants facing eviction are unrepresented while almost 90% of landlords have attorneys.  Similar to eviction cases, in consumer debt collection cases very few defendants are represented.  Unrepresented defendants are often unable to represent themselves effectively against attorneys who try hundreds of such cases every year, with the ultimate result being a low-income family burdened with repayment orders or wage garnishments they cannot afford.  To address this gross imbalance, Legal Service Law Line of Vermont, working with the Civil Division court, piloted a clinic, staffed with volunteer attorneys, that provides representation to tenants facing eviction.  Now, through the 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund project, Legal Services Law Line of Vermont will expand the clinic to three more counties, ensuring that tenants in need throughout Vermont will receive representation.  The 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund project will also pilot a clinic that will provide representation to consumers in debt collection cases.  The creation of these new clinics will allow Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, and their partner organizations, to provide services that could have profound long term effects to support clients’ housing and income.


Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $327,899

Virginia Legal Aid Society serves twenty counties, six small cities and an eligible population of more than 140,000 low-income individuals with a staff of just 14 attorneys and 7.5 paralegals. While Virginia Legal Aid is able to provide legal advice to all income eligible persons who contact them with these resources, almost half of those clients in need of extended service are turned away.  The 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund project, Building Pro Bono Capacity, is focused on addressing this justice gap through volunteer attorneys and community partnerships.  The project seeks to build on Virginia Legal Aid Society's pro bono success in Lynchburg.  The expanded pro bono program, under the direction of a new pro bono director, will be focused on strategic partnerships with judges and prominent attorneys in the remainder of the VLAS service area, creating a new clinical program with the Liberty University School of Law in which law students would provide services to clients in need, and support the development of a statewide system that would allow attorneys located all over Virginia to provide pro bono representation to clients in need through an online pro bono portal.  By focusing on ways to grow pro bono statewide, Virginia Legal Aid Society’s project could serve as a model for other legal services organizations working to deliver services to their communities in need.

West Virginia

Legal Aid of West Virginia, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $279,028

The West Side Neighborhood of Charleston is home to many of West Virginia’s low-income families.  Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School, located in the West Side Neighborhood, is located in one of the most crime-ridden parts of the city.  Nearly 500 children attend Mary C. Snow and, based on school data, over 75% of the students experience domestic violence, are exposed to adult substance abuse or suffer child abuse and 20% are homeless or living in shared homes.  School officials, community leaders, and government officials agree that the children and families living on the West Side have serious unmet civil legal needs; they face eviction, domestic violence and custody concerns at a higher level than children in most West Virginia communities.  Creating meaningful access to legal help for families living on the West Side is difficult when 14% of the population does not have access to a car and there is limited public transportation.  Even with access, the legal needs of the families at Mary C. Snow cannot be effectively met by Legal Aid of West Virginia’s Charleston Office.  The 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund project – School and Community Legal Partnership – addresses both of these challenges by creating a school and community legal partnership in which Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) will use pro bono attorneys, backed by LAWV staff and technology based support, to provide onsite advice, brief services and assistance in completing pro se pleadings at clinics at the Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School. The project is working with Handle With Care, a nationally-recognized collaboration between the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, school staff and surrounding community to support neighborhood families.  By working with the United States Attorney’s Office and the school itself, Legal Aid of West Virginia can serve as a model for other legal services organizations working to deliver services in areas of great need.  


Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2016 - September 2018)
  • Grant Amount: $377,773

In Milwaukee County, evictions are the most pressing problem for low-income people.  While Professor Matthew Desmond, recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” has brought attention to the eviction problem nationally, Legal Action of Wisconsin and its community partners have been working to solve it for decades.  During the past two years, Legal Action and its partners have been planning a project that will leverage each partner’s expertise and resources to address Milwaukee County’s pressing problem with evictions and prevent the collateral damages it causes.  The result of that planning is the 2016 Pro Bono Innovation Fund Project – “Lawyer for a Day” – which will harness the resources of Milwaukee’s private bar to provide advice, brief services, and representation at evidentiary hearings when low-income people face eviction.  With the Lawyer for a Day project, Legal Action and its partners will use pro bono attorneys to decrease evictions and will accomplish other goals – legal and social justice in housing law, supporting county-wide initiatives to eliminate homelessness, and avoiding the long-term consequences and costs of eviction for tenants and landlords.