One of the DC Bar Foundation's top priorities is to ensure that marginalized DC residents have equal access to justice and that no barriers stand in their way when accessing legal aid. Legal aid in DC is a complex system, and the transformation we seek will not happen overnight. However, as we near the end of our fiscal year, September 30, I am reflecting on how our Strategic Framework has helped to move us closer toward our goal.
DCBF adopted its Strategic Framework in September 2019 with the vision to "Transform the civil legal aid network, working closely with all stakeholders, so District residents have a fair and equal legal experience." We did not know when we adopted this Framework that we would be challenged in unprecedented and unimaginable ways within six months.
The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted DC residents and the legal aid community. During those crucial times—and still today—DCBF has used the Strategic Framework to guide our decision-making. Because of that, we have accomplished many priorities that continue moving us closer to actualizing our vision.
These accomplishments and milestones are a collective effort, and many of you have contributed to every success and project we have been able to achieve over the last three years. As we close out the fiscal year, now is the perfect opportunity to provide you with a Strategic Framework update. Below you will find some of what we have accomplished thus far (the highlights are broken down by pillar).
Engage all stakeholders in the work.
The DC Legal Aid Transformations Network (DCLATN) launched in June 2021 to advance a user-centered system grounded in wellbeing, anti-racism, and anti-poverty, starting with creating a coordinated intake and referral system in DC and evolving into a "network of networks" for connectivity, alignment, and action. Through this network, we are bringing together many sectors of the community – legal aid, funders, community activists, health and social services, allied partners, academia, government, philanthropy, media, banking, faith-based, arts, business, and other stakeholders. The growing network meets quarterly. A Slack channel is dedicated to fostering communication and relationship-building, and registration for the December 14 convening is now open.
Also, in June 2021, the White House held a National Summit on Eviction Prevention. The DC Bar Foundation and the Greater Washington Community Foundation, with support from the Urban Institute, were asked to co-lead the DC group's continued work on eviction prevention. The group meets regularly and includes civil legal services providers, the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate, the DC Department of Human Services, the District of Columbia Housing Authority, the Mayor's office, the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the DC Superior Court, tenant advocacy organizations, and the US Marshals Service.
Through Call to Action and Champions for Justice, DC-area law firms, corporations, and faith communities show support for access to justice for DC residents through financial support. In September 2020, we launched Avenues to Justice, an annual fundraising event hosted by the Young Lawyers Network Leadership Council; this year's event raised over $68,000.
Identify the unmet civil legal needs.
We held community listening sessions in July 2021 for District residents to provide feedback on community priorities and their experience accessing support for their legal aid issues and to serve as reviewers in a participatory grantmaking process.
In August and September 2022, the Foundation released two critical reports that will inform the design of our community's long-awaited Coordinated Intake and Referral (CIR) System, which will be a streamlined process for DC residents to quickly access legal aid through a single phone number or website. The first report is based on client and community member focus groups, and the second report captures input on the system design from legal services providers, allied organizations, and individuals. We hope to launch CIR in late 2024.
We secured $1 million in public funding for CIR for the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2022, as well as grants from the American Bar Endowment, Legal Services Corporation, Wells Fargo Foundation, and the Cafritz Foundation.
Infuse racial justice and equity into our work.
In April 2021, we conducted a grantee diversity survey to collect demographic data on staff, leadership, and board composition among our grantee partners.
From April to September 2021, we also commissioned racial equity assessments of the Foundation's grantmaking processes, operations, and overall structure. Subsequently, we changed how we approach our work based on learnings from those studies.
We are entering our fourth year of providing racial justice and racial equity workshops for grantees, our board, and staff.
Fund with intention.
The Foundation funded more upstream work, including launching an eviction diversion program in April 2022 with six Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program grantees to prevent evictions by reaching tenants at risk of displacement as early as possible.
Our budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2022, anticipates more than $30M of strategic investments in systems change – through grants, training, and evaluation.
Demonstrate that people who need services are getting them.
Led by our Family Law Learning Network, the Foundation funded an extensive survey of legal aid litigants from July to November 2021 to learn about their experience with remote hearings during the pandemic. Our widely-acclaimed report, reflecting responses from 189 litigants and shared with the family law court, concluded that, because of the myriad benefits, the virtual platform was preferable for shorter hearings and those that do not involve the issuance of permanent orders. At the same time, in-person settings were preferable for evidentiary hearings and trials.
Now in its 30th year, we continue recognizing the excellence of the attorneys in our legal services community through the Jerrold Scoutt Prize.
Despite the challenges of the past three years, we have been able to move the needle on transforming the legal aid system for DC residents. Our work is far from over, and as I look toward the coming year, community engagement will remain at the forefront, especially as we build out the CIR system. The Strategic Framework is a constant reminder of why we do this work and how we need to do it, and I look forward to how it will continue to impact and shape our priorities.
Kirra L. Jarratt
CEO, DC Bar Foundation