The governing body should serve as a resource for a legal aid organization, assist in community relations and, when appropriate, engage in forceful advocacy on behalf of the organization.
Governing body members can serve as a valuable resource for the organization in its provision of legal services, as the following examples suggest:
- Members with special knowledge of the environment in which the organization operates can provide valuable insight to committees or task forces of staff and others working on long-term strategies to deal with major issues affecting client communities.
- Members may have skills or knowledge about the law or the community that can be used to train the organization'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 organization.
- Members with particular knowledge of client communities can help design and establish the organization's service delivery system. This is particularly important when adopting new technologies that provide basic services, like triage, online intake, information and referrals, online dispute resolution, and the like.
- Members can engage in legislative or administrative advocacy on behalf of the organization when not otherwise prohibited.
- Members may be aware of potential donors or other resources that could support the legal aid organization.
Community Relations and Advocacy for the Organization
The governing body and its individual members have an opportunity to assist the organization 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 client communities that can prove useful in changing their attitudes toward the organization and client communities. Members may also have relationships with legislators or other government officials that can be helpful in advocating on behalf of the organization or its clients.
Client-eligible governing body members often serve as effective spokespersons for the organization within the community and for the communities they represent. Organizations are also encouraged to develop relationships with academics who supplement the substantive expertise of the organization, as well as bring value skills like data analytics; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training; design; sociology; and evaluation skills. This can be particularly important given the lack of public awareness of the role played by legal aid organizations for their clients. The primary responsibility of the organization is to represent the interests of its clients. The organization'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 organization to criticism. Governing body members have a responsibility in such circumstances to use their influence both publicly and privately to defend the organization's role as an advocate and to help educate the public about the organization's mission.