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Civil legal aid is free legal assistance to those who cannot afford it. This legal assistance can look like the provision of direct services, as well as help offered through court-based self-help centers, community education, medical-legal partnerships, and online information. Legal aid can help to improve the quality and efficiency of government programs, increase access to justice, and achieve policy outcomes and priorities.

This Toolkit helps government policymakers, grant administrators, legal profession leaders, social service providers, legal aid or other advocates:

  • Learn about the evidence base for using legal aid to further specific policy and program goals;
  • Identify sources of executive branch funding for legal aid;
  • Put legal aid on policymakers’ agendas; and
  • Find examples of states that advances their policy priorities with already appropriated federal block and other funds that allow spending on legal aid.

To accomplish these goals, we have three modules, each of which can be separately downloaded: the first module ffocuses on research relevant to legal aid and common government policy priorities such as reducing homelessness, helping veterans, and removing barriers to employment for jobseekers; the second module focuses on government funding sources that can be used for legal aid; and the third module walks through how states have partnered with grant administrators, state and local executive branch policymakers, and the judiciary to incorporate legal help to solve problems for the people government seeks to serve.

This Toolkit will continue to grow. To hear about updates and new tools or to provide feedback, send an email to jgp@american.edu 

The Justice in Government Project (JGP) is part of the Justice Programs Office at the American University School of Public Affairs.

The big idea behind The Justice in Government Project is simple: 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. Too often those programs do not include legal aid but could achieve even better results and cost savings if they did.

We collaborate with executive branch policymakers and legal profession leaders in several states including AZ, CA, HI, MS, OK, SC, and WI, to achieve stated policy priorities with existing federal block grant funds that allow spending on legal aid and other already appropriated funds. We focus on embedding legal services in government programs when empirical evidence demonstrates that it works. This can include enhancing services to jobseekers using American Job Centers, addressing unmet legal needs of crime victims, helping children of a parent with opioid use disorder, and ensuring veterans access benefits to which they’re entitled.

This toolkit aims to offer this knowledge and state plans to demonstrate the importance of legal aid.

The JGP thanks its funders: the Open Society Foundations, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation.

The Justice in Government 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, 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 contributions. 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, and executive directors and staff of countless legal aid programs throughout the country.

The Justice in Government Project

Learn more about the Justice in Government Project.

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