Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 1.3 on Governing Body Communication with Low Income and Legal Communities

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The governing body should operate in a manner that invites communication with the low income and legal communities.


General considerations

A legal aid provider is an important part of the legal system carrying out an essential function responding to the needs of low income communities for civil legal assistance. It will generally be more successful in establishing its credibility in both the low income and the legal communities in which it operates if its governing body functions openly and invites communication with those communities. Communication with both communitieslegal services will also enhance its capacity to adopt policies that increase its effectiveness serving low income persons and help it integrate the resources of the bar into its delivery efforts.

Communication with the low income and legal communities

The governing body should strive to operate in a way that encourages communication with the legal and low income communities. Its members should maintain individual contacts with groups with which they have connections. In addition, the governing body should assure that the provider informs the legal and low income communities of its policies and actions through meetings and publications, such as newsletters and annual reports. The governing body should also communicate with the leadership of the organized bar in its service area and with interested members of the profession. Communications should include information on the provider's accomplishments as well as pertinent budget matters and issues such as areas of focus, special projects, priorities for legal work, eligibility and office hours.

Input from communities affected by governing body decisions

There are several ways in which the governing body may invite input from communities affected by its decisions. Some interaction will take place in meetings that are designed to solicit input before significant decisions are made about the operation of the provider. Some such meetings may take place in the context of long-term planning about the focus of the provider's legal work and may involve the provider's staff and others. Sometimes interaction may occur in a regular or special board meeting. The governing body may also invite outside persons to participate on committees and task forces in order to get their insights about important issues facing the provider.

It is important that regular meetings of the governing body be conducted in a way that supports the informed participation of all members. Members of the governing body may be instrumental in soliciting views of outside groups and explaining to those groups significant decisions that have been made and to do so members need to be well informed about the issues. All members of the governing body, therefore, should participate in decision-making and the governing body should meet frequently enough for its members to have a solid working understanding of program operations and issues. Meetings should be held at a time and place that facilitate the participation of board members and others whose input is being sought.

A complete agenda should be made available prior to all meetings and should be sufficiently descriptive to advise governing body members and other interested persons of the matters to be considered. Members should receive as much supportive and explanatory information as possible prior to the meeting to provide an opportunity for review and analysis of significant matters.