I (Claudia) went to my 13th or 14th NLADA this year, excited to go to Los Angeles. Yelp—showed many local places of interest-and top of my list was visiting the LA public library after workshop hours (of course!)—they are open until 8 pm.
I never made it to the library-there was too many conversations to listen to and join, however, I came back more excited and rejuvenated from this NLADA than I did from the prior two. This is why:
Civil Legal Services in the US is here, we are alive and doing good work—it is a mix of “the kids are all right” to “alive and kicking” and a keep on keeping on. In prior years, as in this year, we have been dealing with lay offs, cuts, reductions in funding. All that is still happening and it is hard and exhausting. However, I noticed that we are overcoming the state of shock or anger, and moving now to the pro-active, solution seeking, and pro active stage. The recognition of Rebecca Vallas fellow NLAANder and nurtured by CLS’ Sharon Dietrich and Cathy Carr, and the many other newer attorneys who are bringing their energy to our field, and the remaks of Ramon Arias on his receiving the Dorsey Award—all ring true and give me lots of hope. There is a pipeline of talent and new ideas coming into legal aid and this newer group of advocates (some of them who are not lawyers) will find new ways to deal with new and challenging issues. The fact that there are programs out there finding this new talent, growing it, and letting it bloom is awesome. There will be new and more challenging issues ahead of us and for our clients. But we are going to be capable of dealing with them. Of that I am assured.
The public supports legal aid! The Civil Caucus shared wonderful research on public opinion toward funding civil legal aid. The Public Welfare Foundation and Kresge Foundation sponsored this survey. The results were at times surprising, but definitely a must read for staff at any legal non-profit, to understand how and why and when the public is willing to support the work we do, and how to communicate effectively to broad audiences. The presentation shared 2 minute elevator speech examples and 9 second sound bites. Now the 2 minute sound bite was music to my ears—since it mentioned forms and online forms which is the raison de eitre of LawHelp Interactive and my daily live. Here is the two minute sound bite—learn it, love it, share it, and repeat! Richard has blogged about this in this blog here—worth reading and integrating into your communication strategy!
Civil Legal Aid assures fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money you have. It provides access to legal help for people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families. Civil Legal Aid makes it easier to access information—whether through easy-to-understand forms, including online forms; legal assistance or representation; and legal self-help centers—so people can know their rights. Civil Legal Aid also helps streamline the court system and cuts down on court costs. When we say the Pledge of Allegiance we close with “justice for all.” We need programs like Civil Legal Aid to ensure that the very principle our founding fathers envisioned remains alive: justice for all, not the few who can afford it.
Technology, race equity, and access to Limited English proficient communities—are all gaining traction and were very much parts of the conversation. Technology is also part of a broader data conversation taking place in the funding and research community. All the data sessions were fantastic, and many smaller side discussions focused on data, ethics of data mining by legal aid and other service providers, data tools (Tableu).
Aside from the Race Equity Track (Bill Kennedy and Camille Holmes) and Language Access (Joan Lee and the NLAAN network) putting together a very strong tracks—these issues came up in many other panels not affiliated with the track. Maybe it is that we are finally understanding that a) money will be scarce for years to come—so technology is key and b) the demographics of our country are wonderful opportunities and demand from us creativity and innovation—old tools won’t hunt and c) we continue to deal with serious civil rights issues in 2013 and these give us an opportunity to be smart, pro active lawyers. I was happy to see that the use of technology to support and enhance service delivery, planning, and analysis of services was a thread in many conversations.
So the gestalt for NLADA this year is overall A+. There were many other good and exciting discussions taking place, like the pro bono celebration week that we just ended, the good work with veterans, the data discussions, the pipeline discussions for women and attorneys of colors, too many to excellent conversations, ideas to mention. Thank you all who volunteered your time to create this NLADA and make it such a great experience. I did not make it to the Grammy Museum or the Library—but I did get to learn and share with my community—the civil legal aid community and their partner courts and libraries and researchers.
This is a very intriguing notion. Maybe its time has come? Would this be a private foundation that then could distribute the funds? Where would this group sit? In DC? In a large city or a virtual foundation? Have you written any articles about this to read and learn more about this? Definitely–as funding gets scarcer at the Federal and local level, the idea of pooling together resources to fund raise and then distribute the funds back could make sense. Those in need should not be punished with lack of services or assistance by the fundraising abilities (or lack of) their local groups and/or the unavailability of funds in some communities compared to other regions with more wealth. Poverty’s pain is felt with its embarrassment and sadness by all humans, regardless of where they live in the Us.
There is no organization currently in existence capable of building support from all available target audiences. NLADA represents its members. LSC, although it is a nationally representative organization, exists to manage a federally funded program. The ABA exists to represent and protect its members. As a person whose sole occupation is raising money, I do not see any of them being capable of doing what needs to be done to place the private funding of legal aid in the proper perspective.
A separately constituted organization whose sole purpose is to raise private funding for civil legal aid needs to be created. It would be called upon to apply economic, professional, and social leverage to raise the kind of money we are talking about. This would involve gaining the personal support and participation of the wealthiest individuals, corporate and other business leadership. It would also involve significantly higher financial support from the most successful lawyers and law firms than they provide currently. I refer you to an article written by Aric Press that appeared in May 2011 on the website of The American Lawyer that talked about asking every partner of every AmLaw 100 firm to give $500 per hour times 20 hours ($10,000) per year to support legal aid. His estimate stated that this would provide more than $300 million per year. There are also a significant number of corporate CEO’s who went to law school but do not practice law. Many of them would also be supportive of legal aid if only they were asked under the appropriate circumstances.
It is important to understand that raising the funds and spending the funds are two entirely separate tasks. Texas has a foundation created by the State Supreme Court (Texas Access to Justice Foundation) that could easily receive large amounts of funding and then distribute it throughout its network of legal aid providers to ensure it is spent the way it was intended to be spent. If every other state had a similarly constituted body, the funding could be distributed throughout the US by some population formula in a simple to understand, transparent process that might be accepted by the bulk of the legal aid community nationwide.
Raising the funding involves building a group of people with the ability to apply economic and social pressure on targeted donor groups to secure the greatest amount of funding. The present community of legal, non-profit, and social services groups is not prepared, nor is it supportive of that kind of fundraising effort. Absent that, the present paradigm is the best we can hope for.
There are a sufficient number of historical and currently existing organizational examples for me to state emphatically that the only thing preventing us from raising hundreds of millions of dollars per year in addition to what is already raised for civil legal aid is the determination to get the job done.
The motivation I draw upon every day to do my job is my firm belief in the cause we represent – that justice should not be based on what you can afford to pay for it. I am available at any time to discuss this further with anyone interested.
It is the most personally painful part of my job as a professional fundraiser to know that every year the civil legal aid community leaves TENS of MILLIONS of DOLLARS on the table by virtue of the way private fundraising is conducted for civil legal aid organizations. I speak specifically of the Gospel-like reverence for the notion that all private fundraising, like all politics, is local. With no national fundraising organization that builds volunteer leadership at the national level and conducts annual fundraising campaigns that engage wealthy individuals, corporations, and law firms in active, aggressive, private fundraising activity, tens of thousands of clients go without access to justice every day. I’ve been singing this song for years to no avail. I am hopeful that some day long after I’m dead, some person may suddenly discover the wisdom of building national, regional, and statewide private fundraising committees. I truly doubt I will see it in my lifetime.