Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 2.8 on Relations with the Organized Bar

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A provider should encourage the active participation of its attorneys in bar organizations and work collaboratively with bar associations in its service area.


General considerations

There is a strong community of interest between a legal aid provider and the organized bar in its state and in the localities in which it operates. It is important, therefore, for a legal aid provider and its practitioners to participate in the affairs of bar associations in the communities in its service area. Legal aid practitioners should participate so that their insights into the needs of low income persons are a part of the deliberations of the bar. The legal aid provider should collaborate as an institution with the organized bar with which it shares common interests related to the effective operation of the legal system and in access to justice. State bar associations in many states have statutorily assigned responsibilities related to legal practice in the state.

Participation by staff practitioners in local and state bar associations

The provider should encourage participation by its staff practitioners in the full range of activities of bar associations. Participation in the bar association by a provider’s practitioners will serve as an avenue for concerns associated with legal aid practice to be voiced in the formal and informal deliberations of the bar. It will also provide a forum for legal aid practitioners to develop personal relationships with other members of the bar that can enhance representation of clients. This is particularly true in bar associations that operate in small communities.

Some bar associations have sections or committees that cover broad substantive areas such as housing and family law, as well as matters such as court administration and legal practice. They also often have standing committees on ethics and disciplinary matters, as well as committees on legal aid and indigent representation. Providers should encourage participation by their practitioners in a full array of bar sections and committees.

When appropriate, legal aid practitioners should seek leadership positions including as officers of the bar. Such participation can establish legal aid practitioners as bar leaders with the attendant professional stature that can benefit both the practitioner and the provider that employs the individual.

Some bar associations have a special section for paralegals and other non-licensed practitioners and the provider should support participation in such sections by relevant members of its staff. Many local bar associations perform a variety of important functions in their jurisdiction, many of which may affect the operation of a legal aid provider and its practitioners. Some local bar associations, on the other hand, are not as active on a wide agenda of issues, but do serve as a forum for their members to interact professionally and socially.

Collaboration with the organized bar

A legal aid provider should work closely with the organized bars in its service area, including local bar associations and bars of color. The organized bar is likely to be an important focus of how the provider integrates the resources of the legal profession in its efforts on behalf of the low income community. A number of such efforts - including seeking to improve access to justice, engaging in joint projects and developing increased financial resources - should involve the formal leadership of the bar association as well as prominent members of it. The legal aid provider should also work in partnership with local and statewide bar associations to develop and implement strategies to enhance recruitment of volunteer attorneys and to foster their participation in serving low income persons. It should also consult with the organized bar regarding its priorities and means of delivering service to its clients.

Local and state bar associations are often involved through committees in issues such as how the judiciary responds to the needs of pro se litigants and how the court is organized to address cases such as family law and domestic violence. The provider should work actively with the bar as it addresses such issues. It should also bring matters that implicate how the legal system responds to the legal needs of low income persons to the attention of the organized bar.

The organized bar may serve as an important ally on policy issues that affect the operation of the provider or the low income communities it serves. The state bar association and some local bars generally represent the interests of the profession before the legislature and administrative bodies. The provider should work with local and state bar associations to identify and support policies that will foster increased responsiveness of the legal system to low income persons and should seek to have the bars' policy advocates speak out on issues involving equal access to justice. The organized bar can also be an influential ally supporting requests from state and local legislative bodies for provider funding.