Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 1.1-1 on Governing Body Oversight of the Provider

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The governing body should regularly review the provider's operations to assure effective operation as well as compliance with its policies and with pertinent legal requirements.


General considerations

The governing body should review the provider's operations to assure that the provider is functioning effectively, that its policies are being implemented and that the provider is in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. Once the governing body has established broad general policies, it is the chief executive's responsibility to carry them out and manage the provider's day‑to‑day operations, but the governing body should have a means to assure that established policy is being implemented properly and to identify problems that may require intervention.

Oversight by the governing body

A legal aid provider may be a complex organization. The governing body should regularly review all of the interrelated factors that affect the provider’s operations and should watch for early warning signs of problems that, if left unattended, will have repercussions for the entire program. Examples of such warning signs include:

  •  A lack of success in its representation;
  • A sharp change in the number of cases handled;
  • Significant deviations from the approved budget;
  • Negative audit findings;
  • Negative findings by outside reviewers;
  • Difficulties in fundraising or a loss of significant grants or other sources of funds;
  • An increase in client complaints;
  • An increase in complaints from employees of the provider;
  • An increase in complaints from members of the bar, the general legal community or others serving low income communities;
  • A decrease in participation by outside attorneys willing to accept referrals of clients from the provider;
  • A failure to implement governing body policies and plans.

To perform its continuing review function, the governing body should regularly receive and review internal reports from program management on financial matters, caseload statistics, disposition of cases, funding changes, and major provider undertakings. It should review the provider's annual financial audit. In addition, it should review monitoring and evaluation reports from funding sources. It should determine the cause of any indicated problems or deficiencies in compliance and should assure that management takes corrective action.

Alternative means of oversight. Some legal aid providers operate as part of a larger organization that may have a governing body that is responsible for a variety of organizational activities in addition to making legal services available to the poor. Some are part of organizations that engage in non-legal activities, such as medical clinics or domestic violence shelters, but include a legal assistance component. Others are part of institutions that deal with other aspects of the practice of law beyond legal aid for low income persons, such as bar associations or law schools. The broad range of responsibilities of such organizations may limit the time that their governing bodies can realistically devote to oversight of their legal aid provider activities. In some instances, these boards of directors may find it appropriate to designate or appoint a committee of the board, a separate policy body or advisory board with specific responsibility for overseeing the provider’s operations and developing policies. In such situations, the governing body should determine which of its responsibilities to delegate to the oversight committee.