Legal Aid Funder Awards $5M For Pro Bono Services

By Aaron West | September 22, 2023, 8:13 PM EDT ·

The Legal Services Corporation announced this week it will award more than $5 million in grants to 17 legal organizations around the U.S. in an effort to expand and improve pro bono legal services across the country.

The grants, which comes from the organization's Pro Bono Innovation Fund, were awarded to organizations in 14 different states as part of the corporation's goal to address the disparities in access to justice, the organization said in a news release on Wednesday.

LSC President Ronald Flagg said that the grants, and the access to pro bono legal services that they help provide, are important to help people access assistance in civil issue areas like housing, family, employment and income maintenance, consumer debt, and natural disaster recovery.

"LSC's Pro Bono Innovation Fund supports grantees' tireless efforts to expand access to legal services," Flagg said in the statement. "Pro bono volunteers are an invaluable resource for the millions of low-income Americans in need of legal aid."

The grant money is directed toward grantee projects that are replicable and scalable, and that focus on clients' unmet needs. The funds come from the organization's 2023 congressional appropriation, the nonprofit said, and are used by grantees to meet a variety of needs. Since the inception of the innovation fund in 2014, LSC has awarded 139 grants totaling more than $40 million, it said.

Housing aid, criminal record expungement and assessments to determine how new programs can be developed are all on the table for many of the grantee organizations. For instance, Community Legal Aid SoCal will use its grants to fund programs focused on pro bono services for housing and eviction prevention.

Community Legal Aid SoCal Executive Director Kate Marr told Law360 in an email on Friday that the $313,702 award will help the organization expand its housing initiatives.

"We are grateful to the Legal Services Corporation for this Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant award for Project HOPE," she said. "It will allow us to leverage pro bono volunteers to expand our capacity to serve the most vulnerable residents of Southern California facing eviction and homelessness."

In Texas, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas will use the funding to support programs that help low-income Americans pursue criminal record-sealing or expungement, Bill Marple, director of pro bono and bar relations, told Law360 on Friday. He said the work will help remove barriers that people without access to justice typically face.

"Up to one-third of Texans have arrests or convictions that, in a lot of cases, prevent them from getting jobs, finding housing or continuing their education," Marple said. "The majority are eligible to have their criminal records expunged or sealed, but up to 90% don't apply because the legal process is complicated and expensive. Through our project, pro bono attorneys and volunteer law students will clear or seal records for hundreds of our low-income neighbors, so barriers that have prevented them from improving their lives will be removed."

LSC is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

Grantees include:

Center for Arkansas Legal Services
Grant: $394,344.32

Community Legal Aid SoCal
Grant: $313,702

Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County
Grant: $75,752.30

Legal Services of North Florida
Grant: $481,386.29

Prairie State Legal Services
Grant: $198,599
Grant: $318,650

Kansas Legal Services
Grant: $334,132

Legal Aid Society
Grant: $198,090

Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corp.
Grant: $287,321

Pine Tree Legal Assistance
Grant: $372,223.60

Legal Aid of Western Michigan
Grant: $443,982

Michigan Indian Legal Services
Grant: $181,960

New York
Legal Services NYC
Grant: $300,042.37

West Tennessee Legal Services
Grant: $56,717

Legal Aid of Northwest Texas
Grant: $384,937

Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia
Grant: $398,660

Legal Services of Northern Virginia
Grant: $86,250

Legal Services Vermont
Grant: $227,982

--Editing by Lakshna Mehta.

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