If you’ve got some extra money set aside for end-of-year charity donations, you should consider donating some money to organizations that can help increase access to justice. While there are plenty of legal organizations you could choose (including, of course, great places like Legal Services Corporation and the National Immigration Law Center), there are also ways you can help that don’t just involve donating to other lawyers.
Access to justice is complex and needs to be tackled on multiple fronts. These organizations help people with access to communication tools, transportation, and more—all of which are equally as necessary to people as lawyers are.
Broadband internet access. Technology-wise, the legal industry is hurtling forward. Your clients can talk to you via chatbot and you can run a paperless office, but if your clients—or potential clients—can’t use the internet to reach you, all of those innovations aren’t helping. Giving money to organizations that help low-income people get viable internet access can change someone’s life—both regarding being able to contact an attorney if needed and, more generally, in allowing them to access necessary information of all sorts more fully.
The Detroit Community Technology Project’s Equitable Internet Initiative works to increase internet access in underserved neighborhoods. They also work to equip people in those regions with the skills to create online communities and provide digital literacy training. Similarly, the Foundation for Rural Service travels to rural communities to offer internet training, help improve community health care access, including telemedicine, and provides grants for computers for rural residents.
A ride to court (or anywhere else). Lack of access to transportation can thwart people being able to get to court, to appointments with an attorney, or to follow-up medical appointments after an accident. Most of these organizations operate at the municipal or county level, so you’ll want to check if there’s somewhere nearby that would best serve people in your community. Some examples across the country are Neighbor Ride, which helps seniors in Howard County, Maryland. Wheels of Success, in Tampa, is more geared (no pun intended) towards providing low-income individuals with transportation assistance to help them get to work.
A safe, welcoming place for learning and more. Lots of people have fallen away from using physical libraries regularly because many of those resources—books, music, an internet connection, job-hunting assistance—are now available on the internet. For many low-income people, however, a library remains one of the only places where a wide variety of resources can be accessed in one place, and those resources are vital.
After Michael Brown was shot, the Ferguson Public Library received a good deal of support, and there’s no question they could continue to use more. In most places, organizations called “Friends of the Library” provide economic support to local library systems. Oklahoma’s Friends of the Metropolitan Library supports libraries in Oklahoma City so that those libraries, in turn, can support the community with scholarships, technology training, and more. In Washington D.C., their Friends of the Library provides funding for things not usually covered by regular program funding, such as cultural events and better learning opportunities for children and adults. Hennepin County’s Friends of the Hennepin County Library work to tackle the achievement gap and do outreach to adult correction facilities.
A roof. Just as when people are food insecure, when individuals aren’t sure where they can stay or sleep, it’s incredibly difficult to focus on other challenges, legal or otherwise. While organizations like Legal Aid work to help people facing difficulties in long-term housing situations, such as unscrupulous landlords or looming foreclosures, you may also have clients that face month-to-month—or even day-to-day—uncertainty about housing. There are government programs that help, but those are, unsurprisingly, stretched thin. Some organizations provide one-time cash assistance to help people pay rent if they’ve been turned down by government resources. Others offer budget counseling to help people better manage limited finances.
There are likely a myriad of other organizations in your city, county, and state—organizations that help people function and thrive. Donating to those organizations assists in strengthening the lives of individuals and the communities in which they live, and that’s the very underpinning of helping them access justice.