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Standard 1.1‑1 on Governing Body Oversight of the Organization

  Standard 1.1Table of Contents | Standard 1.1‑2


The governing body should regularly review the legal aid organization's operations to ensure effective operation and compliance with its policies and pertinent legal requirements.


General Considerations

The governing body should review the organization's operations to ensure that the legal aid organization is functioning effectively, that its policies are being implemented, and that it is in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. Once the governing body has established broad general policies, the chief executive holds primary responsibility to execute them and manage the organization's day-to-day operations. The governing body should have a means to ensure that established policy is being implemented properly and to identify problems that may require intervention.

Oversight by the Governing Body

A legal aid organization may be a complex organization. The governing body should regularly review all of the interrelated factors that affect the organization's operations and should watch for early warning signs of problems that, if left unattended, will have repercussions for the entire organization. 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, including failure to appropriate funding (or sufficient funding) for a civil right to counsel;
  • An increase in client complaints;
  • An increase in complaints from employees of the legal aid organization; 
  • An increase in complaints from members of the bar, the general legal community or others serving communities the legal aid organization serves; 
  • A decrease in participation by outside attorneys willing to accept referrals of clients from the legal aid organization; 
  • Technology failures or security breaches; and
  • 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 projects undertaken by the organization. It should review the organization's annual financial audit and monitoring and evaluation reports from funding sources. It should determine the cause of any indicated problems or deficiencies in compliance and should ensure that management takes corrective action.

Alternative means of oversight. Some legal aid organizations 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 those in need. Some are part of other types of organizations, such as a medical clinic or domestic violence shelter, 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 activities. In some instances, these boards of directors may find it appropriate to designate or appoint a committee of the governing body, a separate policy body, or advisory board with specific responsibility for overseeing the organization's operations and developing policies. In such situations, the governing body should determine which of its responsibilities to delegate to the oversight committee.