Here is another tipping point.
The 2014 Omnibus Budget includes a special $2.5 million line for LSC, a Pro Bono Innovation Fund. (http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20140113/CPRT-113-HPRT-RU00-h3547-hamdt2samdt_xml.pdf at p.143). It is nice that the final number is actually the higher House number — see http://www.lsc.gov/congress/funding/lsc-fy-2014-funding. The program is described as follows in the 2014 LSC Budget request. For additional comments see below the extract from the budget request.
Purpose. The Innovation Fund will use competitive grants to invest in projects that identify and promote replicable innovations in pro bono for the benefit of the eligible poverty population. Projects funded under this fund will develop, test, and replicate innovative pro bono efforts that can enable LSC grantees to expand clients’ access to high quality legal assistance. The grant criteria would require both innovation (new ideas or new applications of existing best practices) and replicability (likelihood that the innovation, if successful, could be implemented by other legal aid programs).
LSC will allow innovation grants to be used to improve, or to implement in new locations, successful projects developed using previous Innovation Fund grants. LSC expects that each approved project will either serve as a model for other legal services providers to follow or effectively replicate a prior innovation.
An innovation grant award is not meant to substitute for, or be credited against, the longstanding requirement that LSC grantees spend an amount equivalent to 12.5% of their basic field grant funding to involve private attorneys in the delivery of legal assistance to eligible clients.
Eligible Applicants. Eligible applicants for the Innovation Fund would be existing LSC grant recipients.
Eligible Activities. The following activities are illustrative of projects that would be eligible for funding under the proposed Innovation Fund.
- Developing pro bono programs to serve rural and other hard-to-reach communities;
- Providing pro bono opportunities that engage all segments of the bar—solo practitioners, in-house corporate counsel, firm lawyers, law schools, non-profit and government attorneys, and other pro bono providers;
- Developing accessible, tested, user-friendly curricula and training programs for pro bono attorneys;
- Expanding collaborations and resource-sharing among pro bono programs in a city, state or region;
- Targeting pro bono projects to practitioners in specific areas of law, with appropriate training, mentoring, and other support for volunteers;
- Developing pro bono programs with specialized bar associations that relate to the association’s expertise and interests; and
- Forming cohorts of lawyers to expand volunteerism by leveraging shared interests and experiences.
Partnerships. Applicants would be encouraged to work in partnerships with key stakeholders in their communities. Potential stakeholders could include, among others, court systems, bar associations, client groups, government agencies, and other non-profit organizations.
Additional Funds from Other Organizations. Applicants would be strongly encouraged to seek additional sup- port for projects by partnering with other LSC grantees as well as other organizations.
Evaluation. Evaluation is an important project planning and management tool. Applicants would need to identify the methods and data they plan to use to assess progress toward the project objectives. A final grant payment would not be provided until an approved final grant report was submitted; that report would include evaluation data about a project’s activities, accomplishments, and effectiveness.
Award Period. The grant award period would be between 18 and 24 months.
Management and Administration. Five percent of the total funding for the Innovation Fund would be retained by LSC for management and administrative purposes associated with the Fund.
It seems clear that the program is to be administered in the same way as the TIG program — i.e. as a competitive discretionary grant program. This is wonderful news, because it provides an opportunity to create a pro bono innovation culture and structure that will parallel the one that TIG has created in the technology area.
Some of the thoughts that have occurred to me:
- Using grants to replicate innovative ideas such as the New York unbunblded attorney of the day program.
- Doing the same thing with the Alaska Court System’s Early Resolution Program wherein volunteer attorneys and court mediators help self-represented litigants resolve newly filed contested divorce and custody cases in one hearing.
- Replicating programs in which volunteer attorneys work with the courts to provide free consultations in cases too complex for self-help centers to address appropriately.
- Financing quick evaluations of programs such as these, to help make the case for replication
- Setting up pilot programs in which pro bono attorneys do triage (and collect data on need, to help generate much analysis of what 100% access would cost.)
It is obviously important to generate quick results, that can then be used to argue for a continuation and expansion of the program.
Great job, and great opportunity, LSC.