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In September 2019, the DC Bar Foundation committed to this visionary goal:

 To transform the civil legal aid network, working closely with all stakeholders, 
so District residents have a fair and equal legal experience. 

The Foundation seeks to realize this goal using the following five strategies.

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1. Engage all stakeholders in the work

The DC Bar Foundation will work with existing and identify new partners to support the civil legal aid network by providing data, identifying needs, sharing observations, serving as a sounding board, and developing solutions to meet the community civil legal aid needs.

Recent activity:

  • Conducted the first-ever mapping of the District's civil legal aid network to change outcomes so that all residents have access to justice, regardless of wealth, income, or power. This specific type of network data can show us how members of DC's civil legal aid network currently interact and where there are opportunities to increase collaboration.

  • Hired Michanda Myles in April 2022 as the first Network Project Manager. Michanda will serve as a liaison to the Foundation's networks and help to facilitate resources. She will also drive the growth and development of existing and emerging networks to transform civil legal aid to ensure every resident's fair and equitable legal experience.

  • On September 14, 2022, convened the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network for the sixth time, welcoming over 58 new participants. The agenda included a progress report on a Coordinated Intake and Referral System, a celebration of milestones and accomplishments, and an overview of the upcoming network survey, which will produce an updated network map. Breakout sessions allowed participants to build new connections or strengthen existing ones in subnetwork groups.

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2. Identify the unmet civil legal needs

The civil legal aid needs of District residents are vast. DCBF will identify barriers to accessing services by those who need them most and support the development and launch of a coordinated intake and referral system to improve access to civil legal aid services. DCBF will also work with its stakeholders to use data generated by this system and engage the larger community to identify community priorities.

Recent activity:

  • In July 2022, we partnered with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) to offer publicly-funded legal service attorneys scholarships to participate in the “Building Trial Skills” program. NITA uses the “learn by doing” teaching method. Participants practiced opening statements, direct and cross-examinations, closing arguments, objections, and admitting evidence before experienced volunteer faculty and fellow students.

  • Held focus groups in late April and early May 2022, in collaboration with Bread for the City, DC Rape Crisis Center, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and District Alliance for Safe Housing to gather feedback on the design and implementation of a Coordinated Intake and Referral System. 


3. Infuse racial justice and equity in our work

DCBF will evolve its practices and culture to learn, reflect, unlearn, and change its practices to pursue justice. Initially, DCBF will study best practices to learn about racial justice and equity initiatives. DCBF will also explore local partnerships where there are opportunities to align efforts to develop a plan to integrate racial justice and equity initiatives.

Recent activity:

  • Conducted a grantee diversity survey in April 2021 to collect demographic data on staff, leadership, and board composition.

  • Developed a Racial Equity Roadmap in November 2021, with input from members of DCBF's Racial Equity Work Group, that outlines specific steps and timelines that will continue to advance DCBF's racial equity priorities within its Strategic Framework.

  • Offered the six-part Racial Equity 101 training in March 2022, with nineteen grantee organizations participating. This is our fourth year of working with Service Never Sleeps to provide this training to the grantee community. DCBF also launched the initial Racial Equity 2.0 training series, with twenty-six people from fourteen organizations participating in the five-part training every Friday from March 11 to April 8, 2022.


4. Fund with intention

DCBF will identify and articulate what it wants to achieve through its grantmaking. By working with its stakeholders and piloting a few interventions that address the most significant needs, DCBF will better understand effective strategies and make more strategic grantmaking decisions. DCBF will adapt its investments as additional data and feedback is gathered, and experience dictates what can and should be scaled.

Recent activity:

  • Held two community listening sessions in July and August 2021 to gather community priorities and involve a subset of the participants in a participatory grantmaking project that supports needs identified during the listening sessions. This pilot project was a collaboration between the DC Bar Foundation and Bread for the City and was made possible by a Momentum Fund grant from United Philanthropy.

  • Offered participants from the community listening sessions the opportunity to become grant reviewers The reviewers ultimately decided to split the $50,000 funds available between three organizations: The Safe Sisters Circle, Lydia's House, and Open City Advocates.

  • Completed a second cycle of grantmaking in April 2022, including $2.0 million to six Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program grantees for collaborative work on upstream eviction diversion efforts to benefit 5,000 District households. The project aims to prevent evictions by partnering with community-based organizations to reach tenants at risk of displacement as early as possible and connect them with the support and services they need to stabilize their housing.

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5. Demonstrate that people who need services are getting them

By integrating evaluation into every aspect of its work, DCBF will position itself to describe how it is changing and improving the lives of District residents and identify areas in need of improvement. DCBF will generate data on program delivery, measure the effectiveness of services, study outcomes, determine the level of impact, and share those findings with our partners and stakeholders.

Recent activity:

  • In October 2021, published the annual CLCPP evaluation report, generated by Kelly Jarvis, Director of Research in Community Health at NPC Research. 

  • In August 2022, released a report summarizing the feedback received during client focus groups held from December 2021 – April 2022, highlighting legal aid access challenges users have experienced and their recommendations for the design of a Coordinated Intake and Referral System.

  • In September 2022, released a report in partnership with NPC Research, compiling input from legal services providers, allied organizations, and individuals about designing a Coordinated Intake and Referral System for civil legal services in the District of Columbia. 

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