As I reflect on 2021, I am energized by the emergence of the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network (DC LATN), a key strategy of the DC Bar Foundation’s goal of transforming the delivery of civil legal aid in our city. Made up of legal aid providers, funders, community activists, social service providers, and other stakeholders, this group has been meeting quarterly since June of 2021 to reimagine the delivery of civil legal aid in the District. And though the network will evolve, its current purpose is to advance a user-centered system grounded in wellbeing, anti-racism, and anti-poverty by (initially) creating a coordinated intake and referral system.
After the inaugural June 15 convening (which I encourage you to read about here), we launched a survey designed by Visible Network Labs and invited 75 stakeholders and network participants to participate. Our goal was to determine how members of the DC LATN currently collaborate and how they should collaborate as the network grows.
In September, the DC LATN convened for a second time to review and discuss the network survey results. We learned that DC’s legal aid organizations cannot do their work in silos, there is a high level of trust among network members, and the network’s primary focus should be developing and implementing solutions to problems. Network members are eager to collaborate and re-envision the current system to make it more equitable for everyone in our city.
To keep the momentum going, on December 15, the DC LATN had its final quarterly meeting of the year with more than 60 attendees. Tanya Tucker and Sandra Ambrozy from the Full Frame Initiative helped focus our discussions of the network’s purpose through the lens of wellbeing, defined as “the set of needs and experiences universally required in combination and balance to weather challenge and have health and hope.”
Kelly Jarvis of NPC Research centered community voice by presenting initial findings from conversations with people seeking legal aid support about the coordinated intake and referral project. Affirming this idea of a universal need for wellbeing, they reported wanting a system accessible in multiple ways so that there are no barriers to getting support; a system integrated into the larger social service and legal ecosystem; and, a system grounded in holistic care and compassion.
During the convening, we discussed that, to build a coordinated intake and referral system, we must collaborate across legal and non-legal entities in the District, prioritize listening and the needs of those seeking legal support, eliminate gatekeeping and other systemic barriers, and focus on preventative measures. We must leverage the strengths of existing networks and take a human-centered approach to keep an individual’s wellbeing at the forefront of what we do.
The DC LATN will continue to meet quarterly on the second Wednesday of the month, so please save the dates for future meetings on March 9, June 8, and September 14. We have also created a Slack space for continued dialogue to grow our community. While a Network Design Team will come together to assess last week’s convening and discuss next steps, it is my hope that people will also begin to self-organize and reach out to one another now through Slack. Perhaps it was someone in one of your breakout rooms where you ran out of time and want to continue the conversation. Please join the conversation!
This work requires a conscious commitment from everyone involved. I ended last week’s convening with a simple question to our network members, which I ask you today: Are you all in?