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Convening DC's Civil Legal Aid Network

A preliminary rendering of DC's civil legal aid network map, showing connections between people and organizations across the city. Read on to learn more!

I am thrilled to report an exciting update in our work to strengthen and expand DC’s civil legal aid network. Last month, in partnership with The Interaction Institute for Social Change and Visible Network Labs, the DC Bar Foundation hosted a groundbreaking convening of DC’s civil legal aid network – the first of its kind in DC and one that was months in the making.

We brought together 57 legal aid providers, funders, community activists, social service providers, and other stakeholders to discuss how we can reimagine a more equitable civil justice system in our city.

Gathering together at this moment was no small feat, so we made every minute count. The day included several small and big group discussions covering a wide range of topics and questions intended to help us understand how we can work together to strengthen DC’s civil legal aid network. We discussed:

  • Challenges and opportunities to prioritize as we begin the work;

  • The systemic dynamics we need to name and collectively address as members of a cohesive legal aid network;

  • Our visions for a “dream” civil legal aid network in DC; and

  • Opportunities for collaboration within the network and how we can organize it.

Helping us visualize these critical conversations was graphic recorder and illustrator Mark Korsak. See below for one of his illustrations, and visit our website to see the remainder of his work from our gathering.

From these discussions, we envisioned a network that is District-centered and user-centered, as well as innovative, creative, and flexible. One that reaches residents before a crisis strikes. One that serves as a hub for multiple legal services to make the client experience accessible and seamless. The network can achieve this if we build greater organizational trust among all stakeholders, become more accessible to residents in need, and have better technology to facilitate collaboration.

After the convening concluded, participants filled out a network survey that would inform a map of DC's civil legal aid network, and display the trust that exists between network members. You can see a preliminary rendering of that map at the top of this letter. Circles represent organizations or people, and lines indicate the relationships between them. Organizations are sized according to the number of relationships they have; larger circles represent organizations with a greater number of relationships. With this preliminary data, the network displays a small number of very active organizations at the center of the network and many less-involved organizations in more periphery positions. 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.

While our work is rewarding, it is not easy. We are working within an economic system that leaves people behind and does not help those unable to afford attorneys. It is a system that disproportionately fails people of color. We hope that by strengthening DC’s civil legal aid network, we can close the gaps and help all residents in need. I look forward to our next steps to build the civil legal aid network of our dreams. Words cannot express my gratitude for all those who participated in this first-ever DC Civil Legal Aid Network Convening. Though the work is far from over, we are excited to build a strong foundation upon which we can transform DC’s legal aid network so that all residents have a fair and equal legal experience. Gratefully,

Kirra L. Jarratt

Chief Executive Officer


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