Legal Services Corporation




(to the themes addressed at the conference on)  


“Creating Client-Centered 
State Communities of Justice”  


Conference Sponsored by the
Legal Services Corporation  
Hershey, Pennsylvania  
April 25 - 28, 2001



The Creating Client-Centered State Communities of Justice Conference brought together client advocates, legal services practitioners, LSC staff and board members, and other members of the legal services community to address issues of importance to our mutual goal of equal justice for all persons.  In June we issued the “Final Report” of the conference – a summary of topics discussed and of participants’ opinions and suggestions.  In this document we respond by outlining those steps that LSC is taking to address the very valuable suggestions we received from the conference.  

During the course of the three-day conference in Hershey Pennsylvania six common themes emerged from the discussion groups, workshops and casual conversations.  They are: 

·        The importance of involving clients in the delivery of legal services  

·        The need for client capacity building 

·        The need for greater inclusiveness in client representation  

·        The need for broader connections and new partnerships  

·        The need to communicate the richness of what is going on at the program and state levels  

·        The need for continuing conversations.    

Pursuing these themes will help LSC to address its goals. These goals, memorialized in Strategic Directions 2000-2005, adopted by the LSC Board of Directors on January 28, 2000 are: by 2004, LSC will dramatically increase the provision of legal services to eligible persons; and by 2004, LSC will ensure that eligible clients are receiving appropriate and high-quality legal assistance.  The Strategic Directions document also identifies anticipated outcomes including:  

·        increased number of clients receiving legal services appropriate to the legal issues they encounter;  

·        expanded relevancy of the delivery system to the most pressing needs of low-income clients, with clients themselves taking a leading role in this effort;  

·        expanded range and improvement in the quality of services provided by legal services programs; and  

·        greater consistency in the quality of legal services programs. State planning is identified as LSC's major initiative for meeting these goals and outcomes.  

There is no doubt that Strategic Directions 2000-2005 raised the bar very high both for LSC and for our grantees. In slightly over three more years we are expected to be able to demonstrate that we have dramatically increased the number of clients we are serving, guaranteed the quality of these services, ensured that wherever low-income persons and prospective clients live they receive the same access/quality/consistency as any other client, and do all of these things in ways that are empowering to and inclusive of our clients and their communities

In order to accomplish our goals, clients must be given a leading role. The themes of the conference provide guidance to us on what we should be doing to involve our client community, to listen to them and to serve them.  What follows is a statement of our commitment to address those themes that came from the conference.

I.  Importance of Involving Clients in the Delivery of Legal Services

Conference attendees spoke with one voice in affirming the importance of involving clients in legal services decision making at all levels.  Client input is necessary to determine the needs that are not readily apparent, to find hard-to-reach clients and to fashion appropriate remedies.  

At the conference, then-President John McKay and Vice President Randi Youells affirmed the importance of client input at all stages of the process. While state planning has, from its inception, called for all stakeholders, including clients and client organizations, to be a part of the process, we have re-emphasized the importance of client participation in our recent program letter, 2001-7.   

State planning is the Corporation’s major initiative for determining client needs and addressing those needs.  It calls on each state to address the present legal needs of low income persons and to fashion a strategy for ensuring that legal services to clients are of high quality and are responsive to the needs of low-income people throughout the state. State planning staff are, and will continue to be, calling for state planners to emphasize client participation.   

In the grants management process, we are bringing, and will continue to bring, the theme of client involvement to the programs we fund.  We review several factors bearing on client participation:  

·        Are clients and client groups being afforded a full voice in the priority setting process?  Does the process get a full range of client input – not just surveys – from all parts of the client community?   

·        Does the program board have at least 30% representation from the client community? – members nominated by client organizations.  

·        Does the program engage in significant outreach and coordination activities with client community organizations?   

Starting next year, we will be giving feedback to programs on how their procedures fare in comparison to standards.  

II.               Need for Client Capacity Building 

While these state and program efforts are important first steps to make sure the clients’ voices are heard, more is needed.  Clients can only be fully effective when they are given the forums and the tools to articulate their voices.  

In order to more fully pursue this, we will appoint a staff member to coordinate Client Centered Activities. It will be her or his responsibility to make sure that we strengthen our efforts to build client capacity.  Among the efforts that this person will be tasked with will be:  

·        A review and dissemination of information about client councils – where they exist, how they work, what support they need and what they can accomplish.  This will be a first step to determine whether LSC should more actively promote, or even require, client councils.   

·        Active engagement with our national partners to discuss ways to assure that clients’ voices are heard at the national level.   

·        Promotion of  client training efforts such as: 

o       Ensuring that program client board members have the training they need to be effective voices for the client community on their programs’ boards.  We have taken the first step in this by co-sponsoring with NLADA a full-day training conference for client board members at the NLADA Annual Meeting in Miami.  

o       Ensuring that programs understand that training for clients is an essential role of theirs.  Clients’ voices cannot be fully effective until they are fully informed.   

o       Overseeing client capacity-building activities.  Clients can only be effective when they are given the structures and tools to articulate their voices.  


III.  Need for Greater Inclusiveness in Client Representation 

It was clear from the information reviewed at the conference that the poverty population is becoming more diverse and that diversity presents a challenge to legal services programs. Languages and cultural differences present a challenge as do clients who are working, live in remote areas, are immobile and don’t have easy access to a telephone.   

Legal services grantees need to remain vigilant in their efforts to meet the changing needs of this diverse population.  Two parallel efforts can insure inclusiveness in client representation: assuring that the staff and leadership is representative of the client community and making sure that programs take the steps necessary to ensure inclusiveness.   

Program Leadership and Staff Diversity.  A fundamental way to promote inclusiveness in client representation is to make sure that legal services program staff composition is diverse.  An ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse staff is more likely to be sensitive to the needs of a diverse clientele.   

LSC is committed to addressing inclusiveness and, in partnership with NLADA, has sponsored a series of state, regional and national conversations to discuss diversity in the legal services community.   

The first of the national conversations, which took place in March 2001 at the Equal Justice Conference, focused on gender issues.  In May 2001, LSC and NLADA held a conference to discuss a broad range of diversity issues, including race, ethnicity, gender, disability and sexual orientation and identity. We have held sessions on diversity issues at regional legal services meetings and at the substantive law training this summer in Berkeley, California.  

We are also pursuing other steps to address the need for diversity in legal services programs.  A longitudinal study of legal services staff and leadership distribution by race and gender is underway.  Also, our grant application form has been modified to elicit information from each program on how they are working to recruit, retain and promote diversified staff.   

Other Strategies to Promote Inclusive Representation.  While assuring a diverse workplace is an important first step in assuring inclusive representation, a diverse staff may not, by itself, guarantee that all clients are being represented equally.  We plan to use various approaches to reach the goal, including using state justice communities to promote equitable distribution, modeling successful inclusion efforts and harnessing technology.   

Each state justice community is being tasked with the responsibility of examining the state’s client community and making sure that the needs of clients are being met equally and equitably across the state.   

This means making sure that representation is equitable between rural and urban communities, among all ethnic groups, for persons with special needs and among special populations.  

Promoting and building on successful models of inclusiveness that some programs have undertaken can be a particularly effective way to bring about inclusive representation.  (Several of the projects discussed in the next section, “Need for Broader Connections and New Partnerships,” promote inclusive representation.)  LSC’s two main efforts to promote these interactions are:  emphasizing the importance of these endeavors in the grant application process and promoting excellent models (See the discussion under “Need to Communicate …” below.)  

Through our technology grant program, LSC is also exploring technological approaches that can be helpful to addressing the question of inclusiveness.   

·        Centralized intake, with its principle of a single 800 phone number to direct the caller to appropriate services, has the potential to make programs more accessible to clients who are in rural areas and don’t have ready access to legal services offices. We are funding ways to make centralized intake possible, such as efforts to have a unified case management system and wide area network among offices.  

·        We are mindful that these systems have to be useful to callers who do not speak English and that there have to be alternatives for those for whom telephone intake is not appropriate.   

·        Remote access to offices expands on the notion of centralized intake providing the client access remotely to her or his attorney from a work station that the program has or from a public access work station such as those in libraries.  LSC is funding several of these projects to see if they can effectively help address access barriers.   

·        Community Legal Education web sites and pro se project websites can reach more people than have been reached before.  In addition to providing CLE or pro se services to those who need that level of assistance, they can be a mechanism to lead those who need full representation to sources – such as the legal services program, referrals or PAI -- that can provide it.  LSC is funding projects such as the ICAN! project, which was begun by Bob Cohen at Legal Aid Society of Orange County .  As with our other efforts, we are attempting to explore models and test them to make sure that they are fulfilling their promise of increasing overall services without cutting into resources for full representation when needed. 

Perhaps the most effective way to determine whether clients are represented in all parts of the community is to compare demographic data with program representation data.  As Bob Cohen described at the conference, the Orange County program pioneered this work by mapping the two sets of data.  By doing this, they discovered significant pockets of low-income population where there is little or no representation.  Among them was a Vietnamese community. LSC is exploring the use of this technology so that programs across the country might have access to this tool.    

IV. Need for Broader Connections and New Partnerships

During the conference, participants spoke of the need for “getting out of the legal services box,” by finding ways to work with client communities and the groups who work with them.  Several examples of this type of work were discussed at the conference and in the conference’s papers, including: 

·        Programs developing new ways of responding to community needs identified by interaction with groups and agencies – Legal Services of Eastern Michigan (see Ed Hoort’s paper)  and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (see Glenda Potter’s paper.)  

·        Discovering community needs through needs assessment and addressing them by strategic planning in which a program’s diverse staff fully participates -- Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (see Mary Ann Heimann’s paper.)  

·        Addressing needs through community economic development efforts as represented by Olga Pomar’s paper and Greg Countess’s presentation. 

·        Client council initiatives to give clients the skills to address problems in the community on their own – Georgia Legal Service Program – Clients Council, as presented by Veda McKnight. 

·        Holistic representation – responding to a client as a whole person and allowing him or her to move beyond crisis and create positive changes in their own lives, as presented by Tanya Neiman in her presentation, and client centered legal services that empower clients as described by Roberta Stick at the conference and in her paper.   

·        Participants at the conference shared many other examples of current efforts and proposed projects that have the potential to make major changes.    

LSC strongly supports the move to make broader connections and form new partnerships.  As far back as 1996, the LSC Board promulgated a listing of suggested priorities for legal services grantees which recommended that: “[Legal Services] programs place a high priority on activities designed to involve the entire community in sharing the responsibility for facilitating access to justice.”  The state planning initiative itself calls for coordination of all stakeholders to promote the goal of equal justice.   

In its discussion of the goal of dramatically increased access to the justice system, the LSC Strategic Directions 2000-2005 states, “[a]ttaining this goal requires a coordinated effort by LSC, other funding sources, state and local bar associations, the courts, other organizations, and grantees to adjust policy, practices and resources to ensure that more people have access to quality client-centered, results-oriented legal services…”  

As described in other places in this paper, LSC is endeavoring to spread these good ideas. We are currently involved in sharing good models with the state justice communities, holding these efforts up as “standards” in judging grant applications, and communicating good models to the community at large.   Our client-centered staff person will be charged with getting clients and client representatives involved in seeking out and identifying new and effective delivery models.   

V.     Need to Communicate the Richness of What is Going on
At the Program and State Levels


In summarizing the positive results of the conference, participants were excited about the initiatives that they heard about for the first time from each other -- some of which are described in the sections above on  “Greater Inclusiveness” and  “Broader Connections and New Partnerships.”    

LSC is concentrating on two ways to spread the good work that individual programs are pursuing – state planning and the information management project.  We are using the state planning structure and staff as catalysts for spreading creative new approaches.   

Within a given state, its state justice community has the potential of making sure that best approaches in one part of the state are passed to the state as a whole. While this usually tends to happen naturally in states with a single legal services program, it can also happen across program barriers and among legal services funded and non-legal services funded programs.  State planning staff are charged with communicating to the state justice communities successful and innovative approaches from other states.   

Additionally, LSC has just undertaken an “Information Management Project.”  The project’s goal is to find the best approaches being followed by our programs and publicize them.  Information on promising approaches will be directly sent to programs and will also be available on LSC’s web site for all to see. We trust that the bright light of publicity will spark discussion and modeling of good practices.   

VI.    Need for Continuing Conversations

The 2001 Conference on Creating Client-Centered State Communities of Justice was an excellent start to address client-centered representation.  We hope you agree that the steps described above that we are taking and planning to take in concert with our programs, our national partners and with the client community, are responsive to the needs articulated at the conference.  In summary, those steps are:  

·        We will be redoubling our state planning, grants management and technology efforts to listen to client voices and address client-centered goals.  

·        We have initiated the Information Management Project to give the widest possible distribution to innovative ideas and best practices that our programs have developed so that they can be replicated.  

·        We are appointing an LSC staff member to be the client-centered coordinator charged with exploring further client empowerment structures and tools.  That person will establish a national service desk to serve as a clearinghouse and national hub for receiving and disseminating information about client-centered activities.    

To be fully effective, the dialogue that began in Hershey must continue.  LSC is committed to build on the excellent work begun at that conference and to continue the dialogue in 2002.    Please write us with your ideas. Your input on future efforts and your comments on these plans would be greatly appreciated.