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Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense

The Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID) has jurisdiction over matters related to the creation, maintenance, and enhancement of effective civil legal aid and criminal indigent defense delivery systems and services, including by: (a) advocating for meaningful access to the justice system for all; (b) supporting viable and effective plans to increase funding for legal aid and indigent defense delivery systems and services; and (c) developing standards and policy, disseminating best practices, and providing training and technical assistance.

ABA Conference on Language, Justice, and Technology, March 1 - 2, 2024, Seattle University School of Law, Seattle, WA: In-Person and Virtual Event | 4.0 hours of MCLE Credit for Attorneys and 4.0 hours of CE Credit for Interpreters

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming ABA Conference on Language, Justice, and Technology, a pivotal event at the intersection of language access, cross-cultural communication, technology, and access to justice, which will be held on March 1 – 2, 2024, at Seattle University School of Law in Seattle, Washington. A virtual option is available for those unable to attend in person.

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Public Defense Summit | April 4-5, 2024 | Virtual Event | 9 CLE Credit Hrs Including 1.5 Hrs Ethics

Join us virtually on April 4-5 for the 2024 ABA Public Defense Summit, sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense. The past year has seen two important developments in public defense standards. In August 2023, the ABA enacted the Revised Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System, thereby updating its core public defense standards for the needs of modern defense counsel and their clients. The following month saw the release of National Public Defense Workload Study, which employed empirical data and the consensus view of public defense experts to shed new light on the workload crisis facing defenders nationwide. This program will explore how facets of these new developments will shape public defender advocacy and policy in years to come. Ethics credit will be included.

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Penalizing The Poor: An Assessment of the Administration of Fines and Fees in Florida Misdemeanor Courts

The ABA, in collaboration with Arnold Ventures, conducted "Penalizing the Poor, An Assessment of the Administration of Fines and Fees in Florida Misdemeanor Courts." The report examines the fines and fees charged to indigent defendants facing low-level charges in Florida courts from 2018 to 2023, and found that best practices, such as those found in the ABA Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees, are routinely ignored. Fines and fees are assessed without regard for the person’s ability to pay, and inability to pay often results in additional administrative fees and collection penalties. This traps many Floridians already struggling financially in a cycle of debt from which it is incredibly difficult to escape.

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Representing Clients with Diminished Capacity: Ethical Obligations and Best Practices CLE Webinar: January 18, 2024

This webinar helped legal aid and pro bono lawyers better understand how to ethically and effectively represent vulnerable clients having diminished capacity through use of discussion scenarios based on real-world situations and focused on Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The scenarios also examined the ethical issues that supervisors and managers of lawyers working with vulnerable clients may encounter and addressed how the ABA Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid applied in a manner consistent with the Model Rules. Our panel of experts then facilitated a dialogue among attendees about state and national resources available to help them address the unique ethical challenges they face in representing clients with diminished capacity in a legal aid or pro bono construct.

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The National Public Defense Workload Study and the ABA's Revised Workload Principle Webinar: October 25, 2023

In this webinar, public defense experts Malia Brink and Cynthia Lee explain the results and uses of the National Public Defense Workload Study released in September 2023. The focus is on marshaling jurisdiction-specific data and the study results to understand funding needs. Participants also learn how to use the study to advocate for better resources for attorneys and their clients. Further discussion is devoted to the recently revised ABA Public Defense Principle on defender workloads, which incorporates the results of the study. This webinar is co-sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid & Indigent Defense and the SMU Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center.

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The National Public Defense Workload Study Report is Now Available!

The National Public Defense Workload Study is the culmination of comprehensive review and analysis contained in 17 previously released state-level studies, many of which were conducted by the ABA. For the first time, we have a comprehensive national workload study based on empirical data and the consensus of indigent defense experts, and which reflects the standards of modern criminal defense practice. This study demonstrates the widespread problem of excessive defender caseloads, and can be used to assist public defense agencies, policymakers, and other stakeholders in evaluating defender workloads.

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2023 National Meeting of State Access to Justice Commission Chairs

Columbus, Ohio | November 1-2, 2023

The 2023 National Meeting of State Access to Justice Commission Chairs ("ATJ Chairs Meeting") was held in Columbus, Ohio on November 1-2, 2023. We are excited to announce that the ATJ Chairs Meeting was one of the featured conferences taking place during the new ABA Forum on Building Access to Justice for All..

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2023 Public Defense Summit - Achieving Political Independence and Manageable Caseloads in a Modern Public Defense System

Summit Program Recordings Are Now Available

2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteeing the right to counsel for criminal defendants. But even six decades later, public defenders and other indigent defense providers continue to struggle against outside challenges to provide their clients with the best possible representation. The 2023 ABA Public Defense Summit focused on ensuring manageable workloads, protecting public defender independence, and other such challenges.

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Virtual Training: The New ABA Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Now Free for ABA Members!

For sixty years, the ABA Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid have provided guidance to the nation's legal aid organizations on best practices for the delivery of legal services to their clients. The Standards recently underwent a year-long revision and redrafting process, resulting in a newly adopted set of Standards that reflect today's legal aid practice. This six-hour training is designed for legal aid organization leaders, managers, staff, funders, and board members to learn how the Standards have been revised to better support the provision of high-quality legal services and to ensure that legal aid organizations are managed effectively.

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Punishing The Poor

ABA SCLAID partnered with Arnold Ventures to produce the report "Punishing the Poor: An Assessment of the Administration of Fines and Fees in New Mexico Misdemeanor Courts." The report examines the fines and fees charged to indigent defendants facing low-level charges in New Mexico courts, and found that best practices, such as those found in the ABA Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees, are routinely ignored. Many defendants are assessed fines that that they cannot afford, and are subsequently jailed for their inability to pay. This system can trap poor defendants in a cycle of fines and jail time that not only increases mass incarceration, but which interrupts employment and other life activities that would have allowed them to pay these fines in the first place.

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Ten Principles on Reducing Mass Incarceration

Adopted at the 2022 ABA Annual Meeting, the Ten Principles on Reducing Mass Incarceration articulate the critical steps necessary to help to combat the drivers of mass incarceration and ultimately reduce the number of people in jails and prisons nationwide.

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Ten Guidelines for Residential Eviction Laws

SCLAID Resolution Adopted at the ABA Midyear Meeting

SCLAID’s resolution introduced at the 2022 ABA Midyear Meeting seeking adoption of its Ten Guidelines for Residential Eviction Laws passed the House of Delegates. The now-adopted policy was developed by the SCLAID Task Force on Eviction, Housing Stability, and Equity.

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The Oregon Project: An Analysis of the Oregon Public Defense System and Attorney Workloads Standards

ABA SCLAID and Moss Adams collaboratively conducted the Oregon Project, An Analysis of Public Defense Attorney Workloads. Published in January 2022, the Oregon Project includes an analysis of historical public defense caseloads and staffing, as well as a Delphi process, which resulted in attorney workload standards. Combining these analyses, the project determined that, at current caseloads, Oregon has a very substantial deficiency of contract public defense attorneys.

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The New Mexico Project: An Analysis of the New Mexico Public Defense System and Attorney Workload Standards

ABA SCLAID and Moss Adams collaboratively conducted the New Mexico Project, an analysis of public defense attorney workloads. Published in January 2022, the New Mexico Project included an analysis of historical public defense caseloads and staffing, as well as a Delphi process, which resulted in attorney workload standards. Comparing these analyses, the project determined that New Mexico has a significant deficiency of public defense attorneys.

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Use of the Delphi Method in ABA SCLAID Public Defense Workload Studies: A Report on Lessons Learned - By Stephen F. Hanlon, Malia Brink & Norman Lefstein.

Together with data and system analysis experts, ABA SCLAID has conducted public defender workload studies in Missouri, Louisiana, Colorado, Rhode Island and Indiana. This new report details ABA SCLAID’s use of the Delphi Method to establish jurisdiction-specific public defense workload standards and details lessons learned while conducting these studies.

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Housing Crisis Resources

SCLAID Task Force on Eviction, Housing Stability, and Equity

The SCLAID Task Force on Eviction, Housing Stability, and Equity brings together experts and leaders from ABA entities and external organizations to address the current national housing crisis.

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Be a Part of SCLAID's Future

For over 100 years, SCLAID’s work would not have been possible without ABA membership dues. Today's public interest lawyers of all practice backgrounds are able to join the ABA for significantly reduced dues rates of as little as $75 per year. These dues are critical to supporting not just the work of SCLAID, but also that of many other ABA public interest entities. Plus, membership provides a wide array of benefits tailored to the needs of our public interest practitioners. Join the ABA and support both our and your future!

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Public Defense

The Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID) is working to improve public defense systems nationwide.

Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees

These guidelines provide practical direction for government officials, policymakers and others charged with developing, reforming and administering court fines and fees. The guidelines seek to ensure that fines and fees are fairly imposed and administered and that the justice system does not punish people for the "crime" of being poor.

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Access to Justice Commissions

Access to Justice Commissions are collaborative entities that bring together courts, the bar, civil legal aid providers, and other stakeholders in an effort to remove barriers to civil justice for low-income and disadvantaged people.

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Legal Aid Funding Report

Financial resource limitations remain one of the largest barriers preventing civil legal aid providers, even with their pro bono allies, from addressing the needs of low-income client communities. The ABArray Legal Aid Funding Report provides users with online access to SCLAID's national legal aid funding data collection from 2003 to present.

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Civil Right to Counsel

Access state research reports detailing existing authority for appointment of counsel in various types of civil proceedings.

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Loan Repayment Programs

Loan repayment programs ("LRAPs") and loan forgiveness programs have emerged as a solution for relieving the debt burden of some law graduates.

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Language Access

The Standards and extensive commentary provide guidance to courts in designing, implementing, and enforcing a comprehensive system of language access services that is suited to the needs in the communities they serve.

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Donate

Help us improve access to justice by donating to the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid & Indigent Defense (SCLAID).

About SCLAID

The Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID) serves the American Bar Association by addressing issues related to the delivery of civil legal aid and of criminal indigent defense. It maintains close relationships with state and local bar and legal aid/defender leaders, providing information and developing policy on civil legal aid and indigent defense. The Committee also works closely with leaders of the states' judiciaries and national judicial leaders in forging improvements in access to justice. It advocates for, and works to ensure the availability of, legal aid and defender services for indigent persons through a variety of activities and projects. SCLAID is the ABA’s oldest standing committee; established in 1920 under the leadership of Charles Evans Hughes. The Committee has adopted a strategic plan articulating four goals: (1) supporting resource development for public defender and legal aid programs, as well as for SCLAID itself; (2) establishing national guidelines and standards for legal aid and public defense while also recognizing exemplary programs; (3) advocating for meaningful access to the justice system for all; and (4) providing education and training on needs and gaps within current justice systems.

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