Access to Justice 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 Bar Foundation through this program have greatly advanced these goals. Access to Justice funds pay for more than thirty 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.
An Access to Justice grant also supports 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.
Finally, the funds support a Loan Repayment Assistance Program, also administered by the DC Bar Foundation, which 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.