Our Constitution guarantees equal justice. Yet for too many people in the Southeast, courts are where they will lose their children, their homes, their life savings and their freedom — not because of their own actions, but because they lack access to quality legal representation.
Legal aid helps these people secure the protection of the rule of law, whether to halt domestic violence, stop unlawful foreclosures and evictions, preserve family unity, claim wages and other employment protections.
Legal aid is especially important for people who are poor or nearly poor – people whose basic survival depends on being able to stay in a home, secure health care or food, keep their families together, or protect themselves against abuse. Unresolved, such problems can multiply, tearing families apart and driving them further into poverty.
Investing to help low-income people solve their legal problems is smart, results-oriented philanthropy. For decades, legal aid groups backed by grantmakers have been a driving force for real change in millions of lives. Legal aid groups have answers when families need to rely on courts to secure or keep housing, food and health care – issues that are of great importance to grantmakers throughout the Southeast. Their work improves society’s treatment of its most vulnerable.
A Funding Crisis
Historically, state bar foundations have made grants to legal aid programs using funding from IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts). IOLTA-funded grantmaking has become one of the most significant sources of legal aid funding, totaling $263.4 million in 2008. In recent years, however, plunging interest rates have forced a reduction in IOLTA-based grants.
As a result, legal aid is fighting effectively on every front that funders care about but with diminished resources.
Ultimately, civil legal aid is a powerful tool that can increase the impact of your grantmaking and help further your foundation’s mission. At the same time, it empowers low-income people and communities to defend their rights and fight for their needs while promoting dignity, stability and reduced poverty.