Why VoicesforCivilJustice.org?

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Civil legal aid is a best-kept secret when it comes to ensuring fairness in the justice system and addressing some of our country’s most serious problems.

Civil legal aid advocates are often an important part of the solution.. Civil legal aid advocates help veterans obtain hard-earned benefits and medical care. Advocates seek fair treatment of tenants. Advocates partner with physicians to help patients whose illness is due to conditions that require legal intervention to remedy.

Civil legal aid levels the playing field by providing legal assistance and representation, self-help centers, and access to information and forms so people can know their rights. It is essential to fulfilling our nation’s fundamental promise of justice for all – not just for the few who can afford it.

The trouble is, almost no one is aware of it.

That’s why VoicesforCivilJustice.org came into being. Started in late 2013, VoicesforCivilJustice.org is a website dedicated exclusively to raising awareness of the vital role of civil legal aid in helping people protect their livelihoods, their health and their families.

VoicesforCivilJustice.org seeks to deliver three things: 1) increased visibility for civil legal aid in the national media; 2) increased capacity for media advocacy across the civil legal aid sector; and 3) a new and strengthened “brand” of civil legal aid.

The Context

Opinion research by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group confirmed that the public is still largely unaware of the existence – and therefore the importance– of civil legal aid.  This is hardly surprising, since civil legal aid historically has received scant coverage in the media. When journalists do cover it, many simply report that the sector is underfunded and facing yet another round of cuts.  Scattered coverage of state initiatives and legal aid providers suggests that a comprehensive narrative of what civil legal aid is and why it matters has yet to take hold.

Typical media coverage also fails to convey that civil legal aid today encompasses more expansive and diversified activities and actors than it did even a few years ago.  In the face of repeated funding crises, the sector has broken new ground, devising significant innovations that are serving more people and proving to be game changers.  Access to justice commissions, judicial leadership, self-help centers and other court-based services, web-based access to information and forms, medical legal partnerships, expanded pro bono models and more – all comprise a broader and more effective sector that continues to be anchored by community-based legal aid organizations serving low-income people across the country.  While these innovations have received some limited coverage, primarily in the legal media, they have rarely been presented as part of a narrative about an innovative sector on the move.

A Silver Lining

Fortunately, civil legal aid’s lack of visibility can also be its strength and opportunity in media terms: VoicesforCivilJustice.org brings journalists and the public fresh, previously untold stories.  The opinion research suggests that we can find a receptive audience.  The public believes it is important – in fact critical – to have access to legal expertise to navigate the complexities of the civil justice system.  A majority of those polled in the national telephone survey, when presented with arguments both pro and con, supported increased funding for civil legal aid.

By casting a constant spotlight in the media on the work of civil legal aid, VoicesforCivilJustice.org aims to strengthen the brand identity of this growing and diversified sector; garner deeper recognition by key audiences including policy makers, opinion leaders and donors; and ultimately help increase resources for civil legal aid.

The role of this website

As a communications website advancing fairness in America’s legal system, this site supports a dedicated, collective capacity for the civil legal aid sector.

Objectives

Improve the quantity and quality of media coverage of civil legal aid;

Improve communications capacity within the legal aid sector;

In the longer term, strengthen and broaden the brand identity of civil legal aid and establish a comprehensive narrative of what civil legal aid is and why it matters. 

Further reading

Learn about the 2013 Public Opinion Research on Civil Legal Aid and Communicating with Lawyers about Civil Legal Aid: Highlights of 2014 Research Among Lawyers, conducted by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group.