Vol. 45, No. 6

ABE Opportunity Grant for projects in access, rule of law, public understanding of legal system: 2021 applications now open

Those who routinely apply for grants know that COVID-19 has made this year’s application cycles anything but routine, as many funding organizations suspend or refocus their giving.

But that’s not the case for the American Bar Endowment, which is proceeding as usual with its Opportunity Grants for projects focused on access to justice; the rule of law and the improvement of the justice system; and increased public understanding of the law and the legal system. The 2021 application cycle opened on July 1, with a proposal deadline of October 2, 2020. New this year is an optional letter of intent, due August 21, 2020.

The ABE sponsors insurance for ABA members and uses member-donated dividends to advance the American justice system and the rule of law by funding law-related research, educational, and public service projects and programs. Most of its giving is in the form of larger grants, including more than $3.4 million each in the 2020 grant cycle to the American Bar Foundation and the ABA Fund for Justice and Education. For the past four years, the ABE has also offered smaller awards, called Opportunity Grants, to support innovative projects across the country that share its vision.

Potential grantees include bar associations and bar foundations; law schools and law school legal clinics; organizations funded by the Legal Services Corp.; legal service delivery organizations; human service organizations with legal service or law-related programming; and other nonprofits or civic organizations with law-related programming. 

Spotlight on 2020 Opportunity Grant recipients

Earlier this year, the ABE announced the 10 recipients of its 2020 Opportunity Grants. The total given was almost $275,000, in amounts ranging from $5,400 to $47,500, with an average award size of $27,390. Here’s a look at some of the winning organizations and their projects:

  • The Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition serves 11 D.C.-area government detention centers where only 25 percent of clients currently receive detailed legal screenings that help them make an informed decision about their immigration case. With its grant, the CAIR Coalition will create and deploy a novel technology connected to the case management database, thereby improving efficiencies and ending the need to transcribe interview notes manually. As a result, the coalition expects to double or triple the number of screenings conducted each year.
  • Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida (CCLA) is the only free legal services provider in Broward County that focuses specifically on seniors, through its Senior Citizen Law Project.  Currently (and not only because of the pandemic), CCLA is unable to help many clients who can’t come in to its offices, which means long delays and worsening legal problems. The grant from the ABE will allow CCLA to pilot a new model that includes mobile service delivery to elderly individuals who are homebound or isolated for any reason. It will also help fight the effects of isolation and loneliness among elderly persons and help connect them with other services they need.
  • Connecticut Veterans Legal Center will use its Opportunity Grant to develop and provide free, expert level, easily accessible training and support to pro bono lawyers nationwide who want to help low-income veterans who may have been unfairly denied an honorable discharge. Since 9/11, more than 272,000 veterans have received less than honorable discharges, excluding them from health care, disability benefits, and other necessities, often because of behavior that may involve service‐related post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
  • The North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission plans to expand and enhance its Second Chance Driving website and services involving debt remittance and license restoration related to criminal proceedings or traffic tickets. In North Carolina, 15 percent of all adult drivers have their driver’s licenses suspended because of these unpaid debts, often because they can’t afford to pay them. Racial disparity is a contributing factor, and the problem is often compounded when someone loses their job because they can’t drive, or drives with their suspended license and faces further consequences. 
  • Pro Bono Net collaborates with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus and Southeastern Ohio Legal Services on Bridging the Divide, which is aimed at increasing access to justice in rural areas of Ohio, specifically in matters related to child custody. The opioid crisis has added urgency to this project because it is estimated that 70 percent of children in Ohio’s child welfare programs have opioid-involved parents.  With grant funding from the ABE, the Bridging the Divide project will use its technology platform to provide meaningful, limited scope pro bono help to low-income pro se custody litigants, building on existing resources such as online forms, pleadings, and pro bono clinics that help pro se clients in rural areas complete forms and file cases.

The full list of 2020 Opportunity Grant recipients and the application and other documents for 2021 are available on the ABE website. For more information, contact Jackie Casey at jcasey@abenet.org or (312) 988-6402.