Legal aid organizations in California are known as either direct services programs (or field programs or qualified legal services projects) or support centers. The 80 direct services programs provide legal services directly to low-income people, seniors, and people with disabilities. The 21 support centers provide backup technical assistance, training, and advocacy expertise and support the field programs.
Some direct services programs are statewide (Disability Rights California), some cover multiple regions (California Rural Legal Assistance), others are concentrated in one region (Bay Area Legal Aid), while others cover a single city or small geographic area (Inner City Law Center). Some may focus on the legal needs of a particular client population (Legal Assistance to the Elderly or California Indian Legal Services), while others have significant expertise in one substantive legal area. There are several direct services programs that are law school clinics.
A history of civil legal aid.
How is your organization funded?
The unifying factor for our community is eligibility for grants from the State Bar of California. IOLTA grants are distributed by the State Bar through the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission. IOLTA stands for Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts.
Put simply, it’s the very small amount of interest earned on accounts that attorneys hold for clients either for too short a time or of too small an amount to justify opening a separate client account. Those funds, from all California attorneys, in the aggregate, amount to millions of dollars a year. In California, as in most other states, that pooled interest goes to support legal services programs as defined by statute. Over the past decade, this source of funding finally recovered from the last economic recession, which had a low of $5 million a year and is now projected to be as high as $60 million in 2023. This volatility, related to interest rates, is the reason why other funding is so critical.
Legal Services Corporation (LSC)
There are eleven LSC-funded organizations in California:
Community Legal Aid SoCal
Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance
Inland Counties Legal Services
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Legal Aid Society of San Diego
Legal Services of Northern California
Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County
LSC is the largest funder of legal aid in the United States at roughly $500 million a year. You can find more information on California LSC funding here.
There are federal restrictions on the type of work that LSC-funded organizations can do with either LSC funds or with other funds. If you work at one of these organizations, we recommend you familiarize yourself with all the current restrictions and always ask your executive director if you have questions. Many advocates are hoping to lift the restrictions by working with members of Congress, so we all hope to see continuing changes in this area.
California’s legal services organizations are funded through many other sources.
- Individual donors give roughly $40 million each year.
- Law firms and other organizations donate nearly $25 million.
- Foundation grants account for over $75 million.
- Older Americans Act funding is over $8 million.
- Other Federal and State Government funding is approximately $200 million (Note: For the most recently reported data, this also includes some direct renter assistance that legal aid organizations distributed.)
- Cy pres awards, events, court-awarded attorney’s fees account for additional millions – vary each year.
- Equal Access Fund grants are funded by California’s general fund at a base amount of $40 million per year and through filing fees of about $3 million per year. The Equal Access Fund was created with a one-time allocation of $10 million in 1999, but we have successfully expanded and continued the program throughout the years with legislator support.
- The Justice Gap Fund (JGF) was created in 2007 with a suggested “opt-in” amount of $100 in each attorney’s annual licensing fee statement. With the addition of an “opt-out” line in 2010, it is now a reliable source of funding for over $5 million a year.
- And other grants distributed by the State Bar of California.