Just this month, Law for All, has joined the NLADA as an Associate member. “Associate Program Members are any program or organization that offers affordable or pro bono legal services as part of a larger mission to serve low-income individuals or a specific community. “
Sarterus Rowe of Law For All has been a member of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association for nine years, and has contributed to efforts to improve the use of technology in the NLADA mission. Law For All has also recently become an associate member of NLADA. We are currently engaged in a project to rewrite the NLADA rules regarding the use of technology with an emphasis on creating more inclusive access to justice.
In 1911, 15 legal aid societies joined together in New York to create an association that would become the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. For over 100 years, the mission of the NLADA has been to advance justice and expand opportunity for all by promoting excellence in the delivery of legal services for people who cannot afford counsel. Because the quality of justice in America should not depend on how much money a person has, NLADA leads a broad network of advocates on the frontlines, and Law For All is among them as an NLADA associate member. Law For All supports the cause of the NLADA through local advocacy in the Seattle area. That support works both ways. Effective local advocacy requires a strong national advocate.
NLADA serves as the collective voice for our country's civil legal aid and public defense providers. They provide advocacy, guidance, information, training and technical assistance for members of the equal justice community, especially those working in public defense and civil legal aid. For more than a century, they have connected and supported people across the country committed to justice for all.
The vast majority of people in the United States see effective public defense services as a core component of public confidence in the fairness and integrity of our justice systems. Ensuring the right to counsel reduces expensive and unnecessary incarceration, mitigates racial disparities in justice system outcomes, and helps avoid the counterproductive collateral consequences of conviction, such as exclusion from employment or housing that would reduce chances of recidivism.
Representation in civil matters provides access to services that meet basic human needs, resolves housing issues and removes barriers to employment, and helps our veterans with unique legal needs successfully transition to civilian life after serving our country. Access to legal counsel eliminates barriers to opportunity and family stability, making our communities safer and stronger.
Access to counsel, or the lack thereof, affects not just court proceedings but many other outcomes in life. Reginald Heber Smith, a leading lawyer in Boston, famously explained it this way: a failure to provide fair administration of the law “not only robs the poor of their only protection, but places in the hands of their oppressors the most powerful and ruthless weapon ever invented.”
NLADA President and CEO Jo-Ann Wallace describes the organization's response to this imbalance:
Faced with devastating natural disasters, an historic crackdown on immigrant communities, threats to legal aid funding, the ever-present reality of mass incarceration, police brutality and increasingly severe racial, xenophobic and homophobic bigotry, our community has rallied together in defense of our clients, our communities, our families and our nation. Together, we have come to the aid of those devastated in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma, challenged deportations, fought for tenants' rights to counsel and made progress towards equitable demarcation.
Every day, lawyers and advocates are on the front lines working to make equal justice a reality. They provide low cost or pro bono legal services, and – equally important – they push for policies that support equal access to our justice system for all, regardless of income. NLADA coordinates partners across the country to develop tools and resources, and build communities of practice that expand our community's impact in delivering on America's promise of equal justice. NLADA's annual Equal Justice Conference brings together nearly 1,000 members of the equal justice community – leaders and advocates in the judiciary, pro bono, civil legal aid, the self-represented litigants network, law schools, public interest organizations and more.
NLADA's work to help low-income people receive the legal representation they deserve includes:
- Advocating with Congress, including educating and lobbying its members on the need to increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and other federal and state programs providing legal assistance to low-income people.
- Advocating for inclusion of civil legal aid in federal grant programs that target low-income people, building upon the efforts of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable and U.S. Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice, and growing the capacity for civil legal services programs to apply for and manage these programs
- Hosting a Civil Legal Aid Federal Funding Resources website that provides civil legal aid programs and other equal justice advocates with up-to-date information on federal grant programs, in addition to funding from LSC to support their efforts to provide legal aid to families and individuals
- Advocating with the LSC, the single largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States, and the LSC Board of Directors, on behalf of NLADA's member LSC-funded organizations and their partners for LSC regulations, policies, procedures and oversight that maximize the legal services programs' ability to effectively provide high-quality legal services in their client communities
- Offering tailored legal advice, guidance, and technical assistance to our civil membership
- Developing NLADA federal regulatory memos that provide in-depth analysis to legal aid programs regarding compliance with complex federal requirements
- Working with a broad range of state, community, and national civil legal assistance, civil rights, and community-based organizations to advance racial justice and leadership development as core values in the civil justice community and to help low-income people have meaningful access to a full range of legal assistance services