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The Justice in Government Project Getting Results With Legal Aid

Justice for all improves lives and sustains our democracy. While some people know that civil legal aid serves those same ends, too few realize how civil legal aid also makes government more effective, efficient, and fair. The Justice in Government Project (JGP) works to turn that secret into common knowledge.

At The Justice in Government Project (JGP), through training and technical assistance and our online Toolkit, we help state and local officials and their partners leverage civil legal aid to accomplish shared policy and program goals, enabling people and communities to access housing, health care, safety, jobs, and many other basic necessities.

How the Justice in Government Project Works

How the Justice in Government Project Works

The big idea behind The JGP is to embed civil legal aid into existing priorities, programs, and appropriations to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness for low-and moderate-income people and communities. State and local government programs help people remove obstacles to employment for people with a criminal record, stabilize housing for needy families, escape domestic violence, halt elder abuse, respond to disasters, secure appropriate benefits, and more. Too often those programs do not include legal aid, but could achieve even better results and ensure maximum benefit from scarce public dollars if they did.

We aim to fix that by partnering with leaders in a number of states including: Arizona, California, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. We're testing new approaches to support legal aid, and sharing our findings in the Toolkit and via webinars. Policymakers at all levels of government can learn from these states’ experiences.

Some ways that civil legal aid furthers government priorities:

To explore the opportunities in depth check out the JGP Toolkit.

For more information about The JGP, contact Practitioner-in-Residence and The JGP Director Karen A. Lash (klash@american.edu).

Many government programs aimed at increasing opportunities for education, employment, housing, health care, and improving public safety and family stability, are more effective and efficient when they include legal aid alongside other supportive services. Read more about how legal aid improves results for government programs that help homeless veterans, crime victims, jobseekers, improve health and reduce health care costs, and protect against consumer fraud scams.

Annual Report coverThe JGP is modeled on the successful federal executive branch effort known as the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR). The JGP Director Karen Lash was the principal architect and first LAIR executive director. Alongside her colleagues at the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice, Karen collaborated with 22 federal agencies to maximize program effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness.

As government officials discovered the hidden, additive power of legal aid to advance a wide range of federal goals and enhance program effectiveness, agencies began inviting legal aid providers to join these efforts as partners, grantees, and sub-grantees.

The JGP works to replicate LAIR at the state level.

Check out the First Annual LAIR Report. Also check out the many other LAIR-related documents in our LAIR Archive including the LAIR Toolkit, blogs and publications.

Studies show that most people consider problems, such as unsafe housing conditions, harassment from debt collectors, or an abusive spouse, to be personal problems or bad luck, not recognizing there might be a legal solution. Leaving those legal tools on the shelf makes government officials and social service programs less effective, scarce taxpayer dollars do not stretch as far as they should, and the people and communities suffering get less relief.

Government officials struggle under the twin pressures of spending limited funds as wisely as possible to achieve maximum results, while at the same time obtaining the best results for the most people. That's why legal aid programs are valued government partners. Many studies demonstrate how legal aid can provide real and lasting economic benefits, for both the people who receive assistance and government budgets, by reducing and preventing costly harms such as those that flow from domestic violence, extended stays in foster care, illegal eviction, and health emergencies. For summaries of relevant research go to The JGP Toolkit Module 1.

The JGP taps a variety of resources, including state funds already designated for low- and moderate-income people, federal block or formula grants that explicitly authorize states to use funds for civil legal aid, and public-private partnerships.

For example, after documenting the significant unmet civil legal needs of crime victims, the U.S. Department of Justice clarified that Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance Formula Grant funds can include legal aid for victims of a wide range of crimes, such as domestic violence, elder abuse, human trafficking, identity theft, and financial fraud. Other federal block grants administered by the states can provide legal help to homeless veterans, elderly people, foster children and their families, parents with child support-related needs, and other underserved populations. The JGP works with state and local policymakers to identify resources that achieve their shared priorities and enable their constituents to access legal help. For information about state-administered federal pass-through funds that allow spending on legal aid go to The JGP Toolkit Module 2

Our deepest thanks to the Open Society Foundations, Public Welfare Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation for supporting The JGP.

The JGP also thanks the Legal Aid Association of California, Office of Civil Legal Aid in Washington State, Massachusetts Legal Aid Corporation, Michigan Poverty Law Program, Social Finance, Pew Research Center, National Association of Victims Assistance Administrators, Self-Represented Litigation Network, National Center for Access to Justice, Voices for Civil Justice, and federal staff at the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Corporation for National and Community Service for their support, edits, and input. Special thanks also to our partners at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and the California, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, Hawaii, and Mississippi Access to Justice Commissions, IOLTA programs in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland, and executive directors and staff of countless legal aid programs throughout the country.

The JGP is a component of the Justice Programs Office at American University. For more information, please contact Karen Lash at klash@american.edu and Karlee Naylon at kn6376a@student.american.edu.

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Featured Article

Karen Lash’s article shows how government officials use civil legal aid to further their goals. It appeared in a special access to justice issue of Daedalus. The full issue can be accessed here

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Casey Chiappetta and Karen Lash detail how civil legal aid can tap federal funds to support partnerships with schools, bar associations, courts, and hospitals to improve the lives of those affected by substance use disorders. The full issue can be accessed here

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JGP Flyer

View and download our flyer to learn more about The Justice in Government Project.

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Civil legal aid helps those affected by the opioid crisis

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