Oregon Access to Justice Coalition

Oregon has a long history of partnering on issues relating to access to justice.  We can call this the Oregon Access to Justice Coalition.  Legal aid programs in Oregon grew out of proposals by the Oregon State Bar (“OSB”) and the Multnomah Bar Association (“MBA”) in 1936.  Since 1971, when Oregon conducted its first legal needs study at the request of the Governor and the OSB, Oregon’s leaders have been invested in providing civil legal services to low-income Oregonians throughout our geographically diverse state and clearly see the importance of a coordinated approach to legal services delivery.  Throughout the years, there have been numerous of Task Forces, planning groups and Study Groups with key players, including the Chief Justice, the OSB, the Oregon Law Foundation (“OLF”), members of the Oregon legislature, the corporate community, private bar leaders, and other political leaders in the state, that have tackled issues ranging from the development of standards and guidelines for Oregon’s legal aid programs, delivery systems for legal aid, strategic planning for legal aid, and working collaboratively for increasing funding for legal aid and looking for new sources of funding.  Because collaboration has been key since the early efforts in Oregon, the entities that focus on civil legal services avoid duplication of efforts because the entities are interrelated and integrated.  Some examples of board membership of various organizations are noted below.

Oregon’s Model for Addressing Civil Legal Aid

Oregon’s approach to addressing access to justice has evolved over time, beginning with our early leadership on these issues.  In the early 1990s, Oregon leaders suggested that other states adopt Oregon’s model and adopt structures like the Campaign for Equal Justice.  On several occasions, leaders from elsewhere have come to Oregon to suggest that Oregon adopt a Commission model advanced by the American Bar Association, but the consensus in Oregon has been that Oregon’s current model works best for Oregon.  Our systems are closely integrated and our communications are strong and work efficiently.  When a Task Force or strategic planning group is called for, our leaders are eager to participate. We have found that this type of structure, with limited duration Task Forces and focused tasks, has made effective use of the time commitment our leaders have available.  We have resisted creating another structure that might require additional staffing and funding to operate.

Our leaders such as the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, bar groups, the Governor’s Office,  and key legislators have been very willing participants in supporting civil legal aid and have been outspoken advocates for legal aid.  Other standing groups, such as the OSB Legal Services Program, CEJ, OLF, and legal aid boards work collaboratively and on an ongoing basis on issues related to integrated legal services delivery, funding for legal aid programs, and distribution of resources.   The OSB, CEJ, OLF and legal aid programs work closely together on legislative proposals regarding funding, and these efforts involve the Attorney General and our Chief Justice.  Oregon boasts about 300 volunteers, including those leaders listed above, who help raise money in the CEJ’s annual fund drive, assist with education and outreach efforts about access to justice, or assist with legislative efforts.

Our existing structures are integrated:  The OSB appoints some of the members of legal aids’ boards. Legal aid recommends board members for the Oregon Law Foundation (“OLF”) board. Oregon’s legal aid programs have some positions on the OSB Legal Services Program Committee.  The Presidents of the OSB and OLF hold seats on the Campaign for Equal Justice (CEJ) board of directors; key staff members act as liaisons.

In 2002, LSC’s Equal Justice Magazine had this to say about Oregon’s access to justice model:

“There’s a noble experiment brewing in the Beaver State, with leaders from diverse background and political persuasions putting aside their differences to support the proposition that no one in Oregon be denied basic access to civil justice.  Democrats and Republicans, members of Congress and state legislators, legal services advocates, corporate counsels, Bar leaders, private practitioners, and a robust Campaign for Equal Justice have all joined the fight.”

Mauricio Vivero, then LSC Vice President of Governmental Relations and Public Affairs, stated,

“Ever since the 1996 funding cuts, we have been telling state leaders that the best thing they can do is help themselves.  Our message has been: ‘We know you need more help from Washington, but until that help comes, maximize every dollar and organize at the grassroots to increase local support’.  And no state has done more than Oregon to rally its stakeholders to implement just that type of statewide response.”

Most recently, Oregon’s legal aid programs, with participation from the CEJ, OSB and OLF have completed a comprehensive strategic plan focusing on service delivery and distribution of resources.  The plan was adopted in December 2013.   In January 2014, Oregon launched the Task Force on Legal Aid Funding that took a comprehensive look at funding for legal aid, and set both short-term and long term goals. Task force participants and the final report of the task force can be found here.

Oregon’s Accomplishments and Early Leadership

Oregon is proud to have been on the access to justice forefront in the following ways:

  • The second state in the nation to adopt court filing fee funding for legal aid (and the first to propose it) (1976-1977)
  • First in the nation to host statewide open houses for legal aid programs.  Those open houses have recently given way to community gatherings around the state on access to justice, and also continuing legal education seminars on access to justice
  • One of the first statewide combined fundraising campaigns for legal aid programs (1991) (through the Campaign for Equal Justice)
  • One of the first to adopt a statewide access to justice conference (which has since been replaced by other community events)
  • In response to the 1996 federal funding cuts and restrictions, the Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice and OSB President appointed the Civil Legal Services Task Force in 1996, which addressed client need/priorities/delivery systems; the structure and organization of legal aid; funding; and how to address the ethical implications of LSC restrictions.  The Task Force issued a comprehensive report.  The Consortium of Legal Services was formed.
  • One of the first to adopt state Standards and Guidelines for statewide legal aid programs that incorporate ABA Standards on civil legal services delivery and one of the first to create a mechanism for administering state funds for civil legal aid in accordance with these Standards and Guidelines (1998)
  • One of the first in the nation to conduct comprehensive statewide legal needs assessments (1971; 2000)
  • Receives bi-partisan support for legal aid funding, with Oregon’s congressional delegation unanimously supporting legal aid
  • In 2003, The American Judicature Society presented the Herbert Harley Award to Oregon’s US Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden in recognition of services promoting the effective administration of justice.
  • Received one of the first awards from the American Bar Association for Grass Roots Lobbying for federal funding and one of the first to form a coalition between the OSB and CEJ to travel to Washington, D.C. to lobby for increased federal funding (2006)
  • Formation of the “Lindauer Group,” a series of informal gatherings with leaders from legal aid, the Bar, the Courts, the Governor and political and other leaders to find new sources of funding for legal aid.  (2002-2007) Meetings resulted in several new sources of funding for legal aid, including increased filing fees and general fund money.  This group was honored by the Oregon State Bar.
  • The first, or one of the first, to direct state pro hac vice fees to legal aid (2002)
  • The first, or one of the first, to direct abandoned property from IOLTA accounts to legal aid (2009)
  • Has its Bar leadership (House of Delegates) pass an annual Resolution calling for the Bar to work for increased funding for legal aid and to encourage bar members to make financial contributions to legal aid (1996-2013)
  • One of the first states to require mandatory continuing legal education credits on access to justice

In addition, Oregon has received state general fund money for legal aid, has an annual fund drive that raises about $1.2 million from the private bar, and has an endowment program.  We are likely one of the first to study a Centralized Legal Notice system to supplement legal aid funding.  We are currently launching a comprehensive Task Force on Legal Aid Funding.  Our annual fund drive has participation from the legal community around the state, including strong participation from appellate judges and members of large law firms.  The Campaign has participation from the corporate community and the annual awards luncheon is sponsored each year by Nike and Adidas.

Task Force on Legal Aid Funding

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