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Standard 4.3 on Participation in Statewide and Regional Systems

Standard 4.2 | Table of Contents | Standard 4.4


A legal aid organization should participate in regional and statewide delivery systems to improve the systems' capacity to deliver a full range of legal services that address the needs of client communities. Statewide delivery systems should include the regular sharing of information and the utilization of coordinated referral systems to enable all organizations to track common issues and trends indicating a need for systemic work. To the extent possible, a legal aid organization should utilize a single triage and intake portal to ensure a clear point of entry into legal information and assistance.


General Considerations

Legal aid organizations are part of a system of legal services, social services, and other organizations concerned with the legal needs of those with barriers to access to justice. Each organization should actively work in concert with pertinent organizations in the system to be better able to meet the needs of those with civil legal problems and to provide relatively uniform access to legal assistance to all persons who seek it.

There are different levels of the system in which an organization operates that may be relevant to its efforts to respond to the needs of the population it serves. Most organizations operate within a single state, and the statewide system is central to its work. At times, particularly in a very large, populous state, an organization may also be part of delivery system that has a regional focus. To the extent that some organizations provide assistance in more than one state, they would be participants in the delivery systems of multiple states. Some issues, like immigration and aspects of consumer protection, are national in scope and organizations may participate in networks designed to address systemic concerns associated with the issue. 

In some cases, legal aid organizations and other entities may operate as a system within a locality, such as a city or county. This Standard addresses the issues associated with state and regional delivery systems. Participation in local delivery system is discussed in the commentary to these Standards where such systems are particularly relevant. 

There are many types of legal aid organizations as defined in these Standards, as well as other entities that are relevant to a statewide or regional delivery system. In addition to legal aid organizations, public interest law firms and similar legal advocacy groups often address issues that are pertinent to the legal needs of common communities. Private attorneys often volunteer to respond to the legal needs of low-income persons as a part of a firm's commitment to pro bono services, through panels organized by bar associations, organizations whose activities are funded by the Older Americans Act, and other entities. Private attorneys also participate directly with legal aid organizations. And in jurisdictions that have enacted a right to counsel, a state or local governmental agency may become part of the statewide or regional delivery system by virtue of being charged with generally administering the program.

Some entities that are organized to serve non-legal needs of a specific population, such as the elderly or victims of domestic violence, may have a small staff of lawyers or a panel of volunteer attorneys to address the legal needs of persons whom they serve. Law schools and law school clinics frequently offer support and assistance to low-income persons with legal problems. Court-based organizations may offer legal information to pro se litigants. There are also low-income advocacy organizations and groups that do not represent clients directly but advocate on issues that are pertinent to low-income persons.

In addition, there are a variety of other entities that do not provide legal services directly but do offer services and resources that may help the public respond to legal problems more effectively. They include non-profit human services organizations, ecumenical and community-based institutions, and governmental or quasi-governmental institutions. In addition, many states have access to justice commissions that help raise funds for legal aid and generally support the system overall. The judiciary and state bar committees in many states are actively involved in state planning for the legal aid system and support statewide fundraising efforts on its behalf.

Some participation in the overall delivery system involves planning principally with other legal aid organizations to coordinate key aspects of the delivery system, such as regional or statewide intake and substantive focus. On other issues, participation with the larger network that includes non-legal aid organizations may be called for. Where there is a right to counsel, it is essential that legal aid organizations collaborate with community-based groups (for instance, by working with organizers) and social service organizations on implementation of the delivery system. 

All legal aid organizations should actively participate in their statewide system, and, where appropriate, in their regional system. A number of purposes may be served by such participation: 

  • The efficiency and effectiveness of the system can be enhanced in many instances by joint planning to coordinate approaches to delivery issues and common substantive problems and to avoid duplication. 
  • Some organizations are better situated than others to provide particular services to those in need of legal assistance due to resource limitations or restrictions on their funding. Joint planning and coordination of services should take place to ensure that a full range of services is available.
  • In any system for the delivery of legal services, it will be easier for some to gain access to the system than others. Cooperation among organizations is important for relatively uniform access to all persons in need of legal assistance. When possible, establishing a single point of entry to the myriad available services, legal and otherwise, can be most effective for clients.
  • Resources available to respond to those with legal needs are often insufficient to meet the need. Participation in the larger delivery system should identify strategies to expand available resources, particularly those that can be used to engage in representation that is restricted by other funding sources and to deploy those resources rationally throughout the system. 
  • Improved knowledge of, and referral to, partner agencies which provide services that your organization does not.

Effective and Efficient Use of Resources

It is incumbent on legal aid organizations to work in concert with other entities so that maximum use is made of the resources that are available. There are a number of ways in which organizations working together can make the most of available resources. 

Coordination in the use of delivery mechanisms to ensure their efficient use. A group of organizations might agree that responsibility for one aspect of the service delivery system should reside with one organization. Organizations working together, for instance, might decide to create a centralized capacity for intake, consistent with jurisdictional rules of professional conduct and other law. Some states or regions operate with a centralized hotline or other mechanism for providing all clients in an area with advice and brief services through one organization or a coalition of organizations. All organizations serving a particular community might jointly create and support a referral system to ensure that persons in need of assistance are sent to the best available source of help.

Coordination and collaboration to facilitate the effective use of technology, including joint approaches when appropriate. Through statewide technology planning, legal aid organizations can share software development costs, centralize training, development, and implementation, and avoid expensive duplication of effort. This also ensures that the organizations' resources are compatible and capable of securely sharing data and information in compliance with applicable professional conduct rules and other law. Thus, for example, organizations may pool resources and cooperate to develop a single website to link those in need to an appropriate source of information and assistance and to inform the general public about legal aid. Some organizations have found that jointly selecting and implementing case management software can reduce overall costs and facilitate the referral of cases among organizations. 

Assigning one organization the primary responsibility for conducting legislative and administrative advocacy with state level entities, including the legislature. Not all organizations are in a position to conduct legislative and administrative advocacy and such advocacy before the state legislature and state-level administrative bodies is sometimes best carried out by one organization that can devote its resources to establishing the presence that is often necessary for successful advocacy in legislative and rule-making processes. 

Pooling of resources so as to centralize development of materials and approaches for community legal education.Joint planning can help determine what can be disseminated at the state or regional level and what needs to be employed locally. 

Development of a joint capacity to provide support for advocates and others essential to the system. The statewide system should facilitate practitioners getting training in pertinent substantive areas and learning appropriate skills to serve their clients. Training and task forces should be available, as appropriate, to ensure effective communication and coordination among practitioners in key areas of law and practice that are pertinent to the legal needs of the client community. Organizations should also ensure that there is a capacity in the system to keep practitioners informed of new and ongoing developments in the law and policy that affect the client population. Cooperative planning should consider areas in which practitioners from different organizations can jointly develop and execute strategies on broad legal issues that affect large numbers in the client population.

Working together to realize economies of scale in connection with administrative needs, such as bulk purchasing, the pooling of employee benefits, and sharing of space. Organizations joining together can sometimes obtain a more favorable price for goods and services because they offer a larger number of potential users or can effectively share costs.

Full Range of Services

One goal of a delivery system should be to offer a full range of services to low-income persons in need of legal assistance; coordinating how resources are deployed can make this easier.

There are practical limitations that prevent some organizations from offering a full range of services. The funding of some organizations comes with restrictions that may affect the substantive issues that can be pursued, the remedies that can be sought, or the populations that can be served. Small organizations are generally limited by size with regard to the substantive areas they can undertake and the populations to which they can reach. Organizations working cooperatively in a statewide or regional delivery system should develop and support strategies to fill the gaps caused by such limitations.

All appropriate forms of assistance. A full range of services includes all appropriate forms of assistance, in all substantive areas necessary to respond to the compelling needs of the client population. These forms of assistance, all addressed in more detail elsewhere in these standards, include: 

  • Legal advice and referral; 
  • Brief legal services; 
  • Assistance to self-represented litigants;
  • Representation in negotiation; 
  • Representation in the judicial system and in administrative adjudicatory processes using all forms of representation appropriate for the individual, group, or class being represented; 
  • Community economic development;
  • Transactional assistance;
  • Representation before state and local legislative, administrative, and other governmental or private bodies that make law or policies affecting the legal rights and responsibilities of the client population;
  • Assistance to clients using mediation and other alternate dispute resolution mechanisms; and
  • Community legal education, including provision of legal information to low-income groups and individuals in order to overcome the "knowledge gap" so that people facing life problems understand there may be legal solutions and that legal help is available.

Some "nonlegal" support may be needed and can be effective to overcome client obstacles that have legal consequences; for example, an individual's trouble in keeping appointments or lack of access to online resources.

Service to all populations. A full range of services also means access to legal services is available to all client populations within the organization's service area. Where a major funding source imposes limitations on serving a specific population, it is particularly important for organizations to plan together to make legal services available to those who are barred from receiving the service and to reach out to them. Undocumented persons, for instance, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and may also be wary of seeking assistance. Persons who are in jails and prisons may have legal issues associated with the conditions of their incarceration and have difficulty responding to personal legal issues that arise while they are incarcerated. 

In addition, there are many populations that are isolated by geography, language, culture, race, disability, or institutionalization, and there are restrictions imposed by employment. Without intentional effort to reach out and overcome the barriers that exist for populations isolated by circumstance, their access to, and utilization of, available legal aid is likely to be limited. Organizations should work with others in the system to ensure that there is access to all such populations and there is a substantive capacity to respond to their special legal needs from both legal aid organizations and non-legal entities. In some instances, one organization may specialize in reaching out to and serving these and other isolated populations and other organizations may work in concert with such entities to support them and take advantage of their special expertise. 

The challenge of reaching and serving isolated populations varies among the populations in question. There also often are legal issues that relate directly to the factors that isolate certain populations. 

Relatively Uniform Access to Legal Aid

Organizations should also work with other relevant organizations in the delivery system to ensure that access to the legal aid is relatively uniform across geographic lines and among all client-eligible populations. Many factors affect who may have greater access to legal aid. Organizations should seek to overcome known barriers, both in their own planning as an organization and in their interaction with the statewide and regional delivery systems.

Disparate funding opportunities may also have an impact on the uniformity of access across an organization's service area. Higher levels of funding may be offered for service to a particular population, or in specific substantive areas.

As has been noted, the isolation of many people because of their particular circumstances significantly affects who gains access to available services. Communities that are isolated culturally and linguistically, in particular, may have limited access to the system.

Organizations should work together to establish and support systems that will expand the capacity of the system to respond to those who are not receiving services. 

Resource Development and Allocation

Many organizations have found that working together to raise funds can be a successful way to address the relative lack of resources available to serve the legal needs of their client communities. More importantly, all organizations should support statewide and region-wide strategies to allocate funds so as to overcome disparities in the availability of resources in different parts of the state. They should also join efforts to increase the amount of funds that do not restrict services that can be offered or the populations to which they can be provided.