Access to Justice Public Funding

Public Funding

Each year since 2006, the Commission has advocated for and secured a local public funding stream—the Access to Justice Program—to support the provision of civil legal services. The funds are granted by the city to the DC Bar Foundation, which developed and administers the Access to Justice Grants Program. The Program was established with the explicit goals of increasing representation in housing–related cases and expanding services to underserved communities. Grants awarded by the D.C. Bar Foundation through this program have greatly advanced these goals. Access to Justice funds pay for dozens of lawyers who serve low–income and underserved residents in some of the poorest parts of the city. The funds have also dramatically expanded geographic access to services, more than doubling the number of attorneys working east of the Anacostia River.

The Access to Justice grants have greatly enhanced the provision of services to indigent residents facing loss of their homes. They support the Court Based Legal Services Project, through which lawyers from three different legal services providers provide same day representation to tenants facing eviction in Landlord–Tenant Court. These attorneys play a pivotal role in preventing homelessness, correcting egregious housing code violations, and keeping a roof over the heads of poor families.

The Access to Justice grants also support a nationally acclaimed Community Legal Interpreter Bank that provides free interpretation services to legal services clients who are not proficient in English or who are deaf or hearing impaired. Although these residents are entitled to interpretation services in court, without this crucial language access resource they would not be able to communicate effectively with legal services attorneys to solicit help and to prepare their cases.

The Loan Repayment Assistance Program, administered by the D.C. Bar Foundation, is also supported by the grants. The program helps legal services lawyers who live and work in the District to repay crushing law school debts. A parallel poverty lawyer loan repayment program funded and run by the Bar Foundation also reaches poverty lawyers to work in the District, but live in nearby Maryland or Virginia. Without these programs, many passionate and dedicated advocates would be unable to sustain public interest careers. They also ensure that legal services providers can attract and retain diverse and talented staff.

In fiscal year 2018 a new publicly funded program was created through the appropriation of an additional $4.5 million in public funding to support a landmark program to support the legal representation of low-income tenants facing eviction. The Civil Legal Counsel program, administered by the District of Columbia Bar Foundation, supports both limited and extended representation in eviction matters, brief advice and other legal services, and enables legal services providers to leverage their resources to support the efforts of pro bono lawyers in private practice assisting in these cases. The program builds on the Housing Initiative, an effort launched by the Commission and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center in 2015 to bring together legal services organizations and the private bar in addressing the growing housing crisis in our District. The additional resources have vastly expanded the number of attorneys doing eviction defense and present to assist clients through court-based programs.

The District of Columbia government has truly become a national leader in the public support of civil legal services. In fiscal year 2019, it will appropriate a record level $10 million to support the Access to Justice and Civil Legal Counsel programs. The Commission is proud of its role in encouraging this strong partnership of support to low-income District residents in need of legal services.

Click here for a full list of Access to Justice funded projects.