In July 2023, the Mayor signed a budget that included $31.67M for the Access to Justice Initiative. This followed the D.C. Council’s May 2023 budget. Read a Commission Statement on the D.C. Council Budget Vote HERE. The D.C. Council received input from a broad range of community stakeholders highlighting the importance of the Initiative’s programs, including the D.C. Courts HERE, the D.C. Bar President and 30 Past Presidents of the D.C. Bar HERE, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb HERE, and top D.C. Law Firms HERE. The Commission’s FY24 Budget Oversight Testimony (April 2023) is HERE; the DC Bar Foundation’s FY24 Budget Oversight Testimony (April 2023) is HERE. Program Overviews from Grantees on Initiative’s Impact are HERE.

The final budget came after a proposed 60% cut to program funding from FY23 levels. Read the Commission’s statement on the FY24 Proposed Budget HERE.

You can access the Commission’s FY24 resource materials on the Initiative HERE.

To learn more about the Access to Justice Initiative, read the Commission’s FY22, FY23 Performance Oversight Testimony (February 2023) HERE and the DC Bar Foundation’s FY22, FY23 Performance Oversight Testimony (February 2023) HERE.


To learn more, contact the Commission’s Executive Director, Nancy Drane, at or (202) 736-8334.


Each year, the D.C. Access to Justice Commission asks Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council to support and expand the funding available to the Access to Justice Initiative to address the civil justice crisis in our community.

The District has long faced a civil justice crisis, with staggeringly high rates of litigants (75-97%+) forced to handle their legal problems without legal help. Limited resources left gaps in available services in critical areas of human need.

Investment in civil legal aid is a sound, public investment that benefits the District community. Legal services providers are well positioned to do more as we emerge from the pandemic and should be leveraged as part of the District’s pandemic solution.


The Access to Justice Initiative is an essential part of the District’s safety net. An equitable recovery means having resources available and ensuring meaningful access to them. Access to legal help is critical when District residents face wrongful denials, errors in calculating benefit awards, and legal disputes that need to be litigated in our administrative and court tribunals. Initiative programs support the fundamentals of life – the roof over your head (evictions and foreclosures); the stability of your family (child custody, child support, guardianship); personal safety (protection against abuse); and financial sustenance (access to public benefits, protection from unscrupulous debt collectors, ability to file for bankruptcy).

District residents’ need for civil legal help continues to be great. The District faced a civil justice crisis before the pandemic, when 75-97% of litigants in high-stakes legal cases lacked counsel. Providers were unable to meet the demand even before the pandemic worsened civil legal needs. This crisis has grown even as the pandemic wanes. Increases in calls for help in domestic violence and related case filings in D.C. Superior Court. Increases in complaints about financial scams and frauds perpetrated against DC residents. Over 7,000 tenants & small landlords served through legal phone line, and a growing housing crisis as evictions, related case filings grow and rental assistance ends. Thousands of calls from unrepresented litigants seeking help in family law cases.

The Initiative is a social justice program that works. The Initiative is a sound, public investment that benefits the broader District community. For 18 years, the Initiative has helped tens of thousands of low-income residents understand their rights and solve a wide range of civil legal problems. The Access to Justice Grants Program gives vulnerable District residents access to legal assistance and representation, keeping families in their homes, protecting consumers in the marketplace, and increasing access for vulnerable District residents (e.g., elderly, children, people with disabilities). The Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program helps District residents avoid eviction and stay in their homes by preserving units of affordable housing that might otherwise be lost; it is a cost-effective way to keep families in their homes and avoid homelessness and addresses power imbalance in court. The D.C. Poverty Lawyer Loan Repayment Assistance Program is a critical tool for recruiting and maintaining a talented, passionate, diverse corps of legal services lawyers.

We must do more to meet the need for civil legal help, but can only do that with greater resources. Legal services must be part of the solution as we emerge from the pandemic.


Read the Commission’s Delivering Justice report


Each year since 2006, the Commission has advocated for and secured a local public funding stream—the Access to Justice Initiative —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 Initiative. The Initiative 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 a variety of court-based legal services projects, through which lawyers from different legal services providers provide same day representation to litigants in a variety of legal matters.

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 2023, the District appropriated a record level $31.689 million to support the Access to Justice Initiative. The Commission is proud of its role in encouraging this strong partnership of support to low-income District residents in need of legal services.

For more information on Access to Justice Initiative programs, visit