Civil legal aid takes the form of paid legal aid lawyers, volunteer (pro bono) attorneys, law school and community legal clinics, or access to important legal information and forms. One great need for people dealing with family safety issues is legal triage. When faced with a significant threat, civil legal assistance can help parties to understand whether they need a lawyer to represent them, one who can offer discrete or short-term advice and assistance, or one who can direct them to the right legal information and court forms, such as orders of protection.
What can foundations do?
- Identify grant programs that could have improved outcomes by adding civil legal aid partners. As you review applications, look for issues that have legal aspects (family issues, domestic violence, employment, guardianships, evictions, mold abatement, etc.).
- Provide general support for legal aid groups that support your community.
- Partner with funders creatively, perhaps using existing grants or funding priorities, to develop targeted programs to address family safety issues.
- Encourage your grantees to partner with civil legal aid providers to develop special programs (for example, "Adopt-a-Grandparent" programs, or funding home visits).
What is civil legal aid?
According to the U.S. Dept of Justice Access to Justice Initiative, civil legal aid is free legal assistance to low- and middle-income people who have [non-criminal] legal problems. These problems are non-criminal; rather, civil legal aid helps people access basic necessities such as healthcare, housing, government benefits, employment and educational services. Civil legal aid is provided free of charge by nonprofit legal aid organizations, 'pro bono' volunteers (attorneys, law students and paralegals), law schools, court-based services such as self-help centers, and online technologies such as document assembly and legal information websites.
This report is part of a series of three issue briefs on Civil Legal Aid, created in partnership between Indiana Philanthropy Alliance and Indiana Bar Foundation.