Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 1.1-5 on Serving as a Resource to the Provider

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Standards

The governing body should serve as a resource for a provider, assist in community relations and, when appropriate, engage in forceful advocacy on behalf of the provider.

Commentary

General considerations

Governing body members can serve as a valuable resource for the provider in its provision of legal services, as the following examples suggest:

  • Members with special knowledge of the environment in which the program operates can provide valuable insight to committees or task forces of staff, clients and others working on long‑term strategies to deal with major issues affecting clients.
  • Members may have skills or knowledge about the law or the community that can be used to train the provider’s staff.
  • Members with special expertise in the law relating to the operation of non-profit organizations can provide legal advice and assistance to the provider.
  • Members with particular knowledge of low income communities can help design and establish the provider's service delivery system.
  • Members can engage in legislative or administrative advocacy on behalf of the provider.
  • Members can assist in the provision of legal assistance by accepting pro bono referrals of cases, acting as co-counsel in cases with the provider or representing low income communities through legislative or administrative advocacy.

Community relations and advocacy for the provider

The governing body and its individual members have an opportunity to assist the provider by explaining the nature and purpose of legal aid to other important elements of society. Attorney governing body members can play an invaluable role through their relationships with other members of the legal profession and with the organized bar. They may also have relationships with other groups or individuals who do not fully understand or sympathize with the problems of low income persons that can prove useful in changing their attitudes toward the provider and client communities. Members may also have relationships with legislators or other government officials that can be helpful in advocating on behalf of the provider or its clients. Client governing body members often serve as effective spokespersons for the provider.

This role can be particularly important given the lack of public awareness of the role played by legal aid providers for their clients. The primary responsibility of the provider is to represent the interests of its clients. The provider’s practitioners sometimes represent their clients against influential adversaries, and sometimes may take positions or seek remedies that are unpopular. At such times, effective representation may create controversy and subject the provider to criticism. Governing body members have a responsibility in such circumstances to use their influence both publicly and privately to defend the provider’s role as an advocate and to help educate the public about the provider's mission to help make the legal system available to all.