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Doing the Work Within and Beyond Civil Legal Aid

As a funder, the DC Bar Foundation's first role is to provide grants to civil legal aid organizations in DC. We fund more than 30 organizations annually through the Access to Justice Initiative, lawyer trust account revenues, and private fundraising efforts. With these funds, our program partners (grantees) can provide critical legal services for housing, employment, public benefits, family services, education, and many other issues. However, as the CEO of the Foundation, I am committed to expanding our efforts beyond funding and creating an integrated system that will connect DC residents with legal aid assistance faster and more efficiently.

To build this faster and more efficient system, we must include organizations and individuals beyond the legal aid community. We need social services providers, health professionals, government officials, funders, activists, and advocates to join our efforts. During our June convening for DC Legal Aid Transformations Network (DC LATN), where we celebrated the two-year anniversary of the network, I was thrilled to see that we were joined by a diverse group of thought leaders beyond legal aid.

DCBF has made a conscious effort to involve other providers, such as social services, medical, and human services providers, in our work because this plays a significant role in achieving wellbeing for DC residents who have been marginalized. If wellbeing is "the set of needs and experiences universally required in combination and balance to weather challenges and have health and hope," then we cannot do this work in a silo or vacuum. DCBF will continue to serve as the convener that brings everyone together so that we may continue this work while thinking more deeply and strategically as partners.

Just last month, building on focus group work begun in late 2021, we continued our outreach with DC residents to ensure the design and functionality of the CIR System aligns with clients' needs. In partnership with NPC Research we worked with six social services providers to host a series of focus groups with their clients to discuss Coordinated Intake and Referral (CIR)—a user-centered system that will make it easier to access civil legal aid services. The six organizations were Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Food and Friends, Horton's Kids, Inc., Mamatoto Village, My Sister's Place DC, and the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.

One theme we heard during these conversations is the importance of involving medical professionals in our ecosystem. A few participants mentioned their doctor’s office told them about things like the Children's Law Center and the services they offer and the Landlord-Tenant Legal Assistance Network—a coordinated intake and referral service that is a single point of entry for tenants to access legal help for housing. This is evidence that interconnectedness is key if we want a support system that works and is effective. This is only one example of why the Foundation is committed to including a variety of voices in this transformative work. By partnering with social services providers and others, we can make sure that no matter the entry point, DC residents can quickly and easily access legal services. These diverse voices allow us to hone in on what clients need and how we can better tailor services to meet those needs.

Our progress with other providers beyond legal aid will continue to grow as the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network continues to grow and mature. I sincerely thank the six social services organizations that worked with DCBF to host our most recent focus groups. Their commitment to working together means a great deal to DCBF and the DC residents who will benefit from the Coordinated Intake and Referral System.


Kirra L. Jarratt, CEO


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