LSC has made public its draft Strategic Plan, and is requesting comments, which are due July 11. Its an impressive and encouraging document, that should help focus the work of the Corporation, and indeed the access to justice community, in the coming years. In particular, the Plan envisions raising money from new sources, and using it to provide innovations and incentives for improvements.
I am pasting below the description of the three overall strategic goals (I am omitting the footnote and have done some reformatting):
Despite the challenges of the current state of affairs, LSC has a duty to the American people to pursue its fundamental mission of access to justice. With this in mind, the LSC Board of Directors has prepared this plan to set forth the strategic goals that will guide LSC for the next five years.
LSC’s primary goal is to maximize the availability, quality, and effectiveness of the civil legal services that its grantees provide to eligible low-income individuals.
To achieve this goal, LSC must work to afford its grantees the resources, tools, and management expertise to most effectively reach and assist their clients. LSC will pursue its work in this crucial period along three avenues:
(1) identifying and replicating best practices associated with delivering high quality civil legal assistance to the poor by its grantees;
(2) promoting the development and implementation of technologies that maximize the availability of legal information and assistance; and
(3) expanding the availability of civil legal assistance beyond LSC’s grantees through the most effective use of pro bono services and other private resources.
In order to achieve this first goal, which reflects its fundamental mission, LSC will employ robust assessment tools to ensure that it identifies, recognizes, and replicates the best practices among its grantees and those qualities that define its highest-performing grantees. LSC also will provide attention and assistance to lower-performing grantees and to grantees who may request such assistance. Meeting this goal will be a significant challenge in the current funding environment. LSC’s approach to improving quality must be focused on promoting innovation that accomplishes more with fewer resources.
LSC’s second goal is to become a leading voice for civil legal services for poor Americans.
LSC will provide national leadership and opportunities for collaboration with others committed to promoting civil legal services, including other funders of legal aid, governmental agencies, and judicial systems throughout the country. The primary goals of this collaboration will be: (a) to increase awareness of the significance and value of civil legal aid with the intention of increasing public and private resources devoted to this purpose; and (b) to more closely match resources and needs, identify innovative approaches, and coordinate LSC’s efforts to achieve maximum effectiveness.
In order to become a leading voice, LSC will:
• identify federal government agencies that might have additional resources available for LSC grantees and to expand awareness of the availability of such resources to grantees;
• identify and reach out to national foundations and other sources to broaden LSC’s funding base, in order to:
provide funds for research, the development of promising practices, and other projects with the potential to improve civil legal assistance more generally, and
create a renewed awareness in the philanthropic community about legal services for the poor;
• work together with providers of legal services to low-income individuals to raise public awareness about civil legal aid and both the positive contribution it makes in the lives of the poor as well as the economic benefits to the government and to society as a whole; and
• improve communication about the work that LSC and its grantees do in the cause of providing legal services to the poor.
LSC’s third goal is to achieve the highest standards of fiscal responsibility both for itself and its grantees.
The United States Congress entrusts LSC with funds collected from the American taxpayer. Both to live up to that trust and to justify further confidence, LSC will be a prudent steward of the resources allocated to it. LSC will comply with the parameters expressed by Congress and conform to the highest peer-reviewed professional standards of fiscal transparency and accountability, both within the Corporation and in its fiscal oversight of those who receive funds from LSC.
In January 2012, the LSC Board of Directors approved the recommendations of its Financial Oversight Task Force. In achieving this goal, LSC will implement the recommendations of the Task Force. (pp. 2-4).
Some Highlights and Initial Comments
- The introductory language grounds LSC in a broad access definition: “The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was founded on a shared American ideal: access to justice regardless of one’s economic status.” (p. 1).
- Prominence is given to technology and informational services: “promoting the development and implementation of technologies that maximize the availability of legal information and assistance.” (p. 3).
- There is a general recognition the efficiency must be increased through innovation: “LSC’s approach to improving quality must be focused on promoting innovation that accomplishes more with fewer resources.” (p. 3)
- The commitment to work with other federal agencies and private foundations to broaden the funding base is a major and overdue shift in direction. (p. 3).
- The commitment to fiscal responsibility is critical for credibility. (p.4 ).
- The Best Practices component is dynamic and seen as the basis for collaboration: “This will also include the identification of those federal agencies that are most involved in the types of legal issues that LSC grantees handle for their clients so as to facilitate coordination with these agencies to better streamline responsiveness to the needs of clients” (p. 5).
- The commitment to performance measures is revolutionary. It includes: “Outcome metric(s): Evaluating how a grantee organization’s delivered legal services translate into identified benefits for individual clients, as well as other societal benefits and governmental savings.
Efficiency metric(s): Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of a grantee organization’s activities by measuring how invested federal grant dollars translate into an amount of legal services delivered.
Needs Assessment metric(s): Ensuring that grantees effectively assess the needs of eligible clients in their service areas, establish priorities reflecting such assessment in a manner consistent with the Legal Services Corporation Act and LSC regulations, and evaluate their effectiveness in meeting those priorities.” (p. 6).
- There’s a commitment to online data collection to minimize the burden on grantees. (p.7)
- For the first time ever, there is a willingness to provide true performance incentives, even within the context of legislative field grant allocation formula. “When clear, evidence-based standards of performance are established, LSC will seek to provide performance incentives to grantees outside these funding formulas.” (p.7)
- Specific rewards are suggested: “LSC certification as a top-performing organization; Invitation to special LSC recognition programs; Increased access to funds or projects generated through LSC’s own advancement efforts; Ability to compete for special grant programs that LSC may administer.” (p. 7.) Note particularly that last one. As I see it, such programs might be funded sources other than Congress.
- Corrective possibilities are suggested for programs that are identified as sub-par: A special review by LSC or peers; Required professional development activities (such as training); Implementation of specific quality or efficiency processes; Enhanced program oversight requirements; Suggested changes in staffing or program focus; or, Other actions permitted by applicable law and corresponding regulations. (p.7)
- Various forms of training and support, most notably, as far as I am concerned, training for boards, executive director mentoring, and collaboration tools. (pp. 8-9)
- The long-overdue establishment of a communications strategy, including perhaps most crucially, the making of a business case for funding: “Gather and analyze broad, nationwide data on the results achieved in civil legal services cases as the starting point for a strong economic analysis; Conduct research on the best methods for quantifying the cost savings realized by the outcomes achieved; and, Create a research-backed case for the investment in civil legal services that shows the value of current expenditures and reasonable estimates of the public value that would be created by increased funding – a projected marginal value for legal aid dollars.” (p. 11).
- Understanding that efforts must be made to influence the overall philanthropic community. (p.11).
- An Internal Advancement Office to support fundraising for: “Research projects; Fellowships created for new lawyers and senior lawyers to serve in legal services
programs; Create appropriate public service announcements and public education materials; Launch of an honorary auxiliary board; launch of a national alumni association; and, Other pilot projects and initiatives.” (p.12).
- Risk Assessment. As part of broader management initiatives, a coordinated effort to identify areas of risk in financial management and controls for the field. (p .15).
It is an impressive and well thought out agenda, one that can be transformative.