Pro Bono Innovation Fund

Pro Bono cannot replace the enormous contributions of full-time legal aid programs, either in terms of volume or expertise. But it is an essential mechanism for narrowing the justice gap, especially where efforts to engage pro bono lawyers are adequately resourced and supported.

The Report of the Pro Bono Task Force

Overview

The Pro Bono Innovation Fund offers grants for new pro bono initiatives, collaborations, and partnerships to

  • engage more lawyers and other professions in pro bono service,
  • address gaps in legal services, and
  • address persistent challenges in pro bono delivery systems.

In March 2011, our Board of Directors formed the Pro Bono Task Force to address the current crisis in legal services, where at least 50 percent of eligible low-income individuals seeking help from our grantees are turned away due to insufficient resources and 80 percent of civil legal needs are unmet.

After a year of research, the Task Force released the Report of the Pro Bono Task Force. This report included recommendations to increase the number of pro bono attorneys and other volunteers who are available to provide legal aid for low-income people. One key recommendation from the report was a request for LSC to create a Pro Bono Innovation Fund in order to encourage new ideas for engaging pro bono assistance and to narrow the justice gap.

On January 17, 2014, the President of the United States signed P.L. 113-76, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which included $2.5 million for LSC to establish the Pro Bono Innovation Fund. In December of that same year, P.L. 113-235, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 increased funding for the Pro Bono Innovation Fund to $4 million.

Eligibility

We only accept grant applications for legal aid programs and organizations receiving our Basic Field Grant.

If your program or legal aid organization is interested in applying, we encourage you to consider developing project models that offer impactful and replicable solutions to persistent challenges in your current pro bono delivery system.

Projects are not limited to those that exclusively provide direct services. You can propose to fulfill the key goals of the Pro Bono Fund by improving efficiency or capacity in your pro bono program or overall legal services with new tools, resources, or technology. This can include:

  • Advancing the organization's strategic imperatives by integrating volunteers into significant delivery or advocacy efforts
  • Unifying fractured pro bono efforts with projects that emphasize partnerships with pro bono and community stakeholders
  • Leveraging unique partnerships and using technology to streamline the process of matching, supporting, and training volunteers
  • Serving hard-to-reach populations with effective pro bono service delivery strategies
  • Establishing quality controls and setting goals for timely, effective pro bono work

How to Apply

Prior to submitting an application, you are required to submit a Letter of Intent to Apply for Funding in the online LSC Grants system. Letters of intent allow our staff to quickly assess projects that are most viable for funding and a strong match for the Pro Bono Fund. You may submit more than one letter of intent.

Proposals for funding will not be accepted if you have not submitted a letter of intent. All letters of intent should be submitted online in March by the designated deadline at 5 p.m. eastern time. In April, we will invite select applicants to submit a full proposal for funding.

Reviewers will assess applications according to the selection criteria below. Detailed requirements for each category is outlined in the Application Instructions for 2016 Grant Funding.

Reporting, Compliance Requirements & Applicable Law

All grants and grant recipients are subject to all the requirements of the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974, as amended, and any applicable appropriations acts, laws, rules, regulations, policies, guidelines, instructions, and other directives. These provisions contain restrictions on the activities of those who receive our funds and may affect the eligibility of potential applicants. If you are awarded the Pro Bono Innovation Fund, you will be required to comply with all requirements contained therein.

The Pro Bono Fund supports activities and use of non-lawyer volunteers who would otherwise not fulfill a grantee's 12.5 percent Private Attorney Involvement requirement under 45 C.F.R. §1614 as long as the proposed project activities are LSC-eligible. The Private Attorney Involvement requirement should not affect, nor should limit, activities proposed for Pro Bono Fund projects that are otherwise allowable programmatic activities. LSC has recently revised the Private Attorney Involvement requirement.

Subgrants of LSC funds result in LSC restrictions applying to both the LSC and non-LSC funds of the organization receiving the subgrant under 45 C.F.R. §1610.7(a). LSC regulations provide an exception to this general rule when the subgrant is exclusively for activities that meet the substantive requirements of Part 1614 and when the subgrant is for those activities only. In such instances, the LSC restrictions will apply only to the subgrant funds and not the other funds of the subgrantee under 45 C.F.R. §1610.7(c).

If the scope and nature of the proposed Pro Bono Fund subgrant activities with the partner organization meet the current requirements under Part 1614 and the 12.5 percent private attorney involvement requirement, the LSC restrictions will apply only to the subgrant funds. If the proposed subgrant activities do not fit within the current requirements of Part 1614, an LSC subgrant to the partner organization will result in the partner organization's LSC and non-LSC funds being subject to LSC restrictions.

Visit Grantee Guidance for more detailed information about reporting and compliance requirements as well as applicable law.

Current Grants

Twenty-three legal aid organizations applied for funding in 2016. We awarded Pro Bono Fund grants to 11 of those organizations.

View current grant projects.

Submission Deadlines

February: Applicants can participate in an informational webinar for the letter of intent process.

March: Deadline to submit your letter of intent.

April: Applicants are invited to apply, and the online application is available.

July: Applications are due.

August: Applications are in review.

September: Grant awards are announced.