The Chronicle on Philanthropy has an excellent article by Mary McClymont of the Public Welfare Foundation on the usefulness of issue-oriented grant-maker strategies including a legal aid/access to justice component. I am pasting below much of the article:
Philanthropy, which has not yet paid much attention to th[e legal aid crisis], should take on a larger and deeper role.
By embracing this priority, grant makers have an opportunity not just to help advance equal access to justice but also to make progress on other issues, such as affordable housing, access to health care, education reform, economic development, income security, domestic violence, and help for children and families.
We should recognize that civil legal aid can serve as a significant grant-making tool, similar to community organizing, advocacy, or research. It adds value to the work grant makers already undertake.
Opportunities abound. In recent years, legal-aid lawyers have joined forces and moved ahead with thoughtful and innovative solutions that make it possible to serve more people. These innovations could be expanded exponentially with more investment.
A prime example: medical-legal partnerships, which integrate lawyers into health-care teams to ensure that needy people are safe and get housing, food, government benefits, and other help that would keep them from getting sick. And powerful allies like state chief justices are emerging to advocate for legal aid.
Grant makers committed to services for low-income people should see civil legal aid as one of the most effective ways to improve people’s lives.
Foundations that want to influence public policy or make sure government and business follow through on their promises should enlist civil legal aid groups as partners. These groups see problems faced by low-income people every day, and they use that knowledge to create broader advocacy strategies that advance the goals so many philanthropies care about.
Civil legal aid can also help us make sure our dollars are being used wisely. It can prevent people from losing the affordable housing that a grant maker has already provided funds to preserve.
And private support of innovative legal-aid projects can complement or attract federal or state money in public-private partnerships.
Philanthropies such as the California Endowment, the Kresge Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, to name a few, have recognized the importance of civil legal aid to bolster key components of their work. And we at the Public Welfare Foundation are also supporting efforts to strengthen and expand civil legal aid opportunities.
As you may know, the Public Welfare Foundation is making some significant grants in its Civil Legal Aid Initiative.
But, more important is the broad message that grant-makers generally should be deeply interested in the access to justice crisis, and understand that relatively minor investments can be greatly leveraged through ensuring that legal services and help are available to ensure that those impacted by “their issues” are heard.
I would encourage programs to use this article, perhaps to work with local associations of grant-makers (RAGs — list here) to have local convenings on the power of legal aid investments and/or get articles such as this in their local RAG newsletters. The DOJ Access Initiative must be highly commended for making the same leveraging argument within the Federal Government.