Access to Justice

Do you have an idea for an access-to-justice project? ABE is offering grants

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Kentucky’s Legal Aid of the Bluegrass bought a Mercedes Sprinter van outfitted with a mobile law office. Iowa Legal Aid opened its state’s first medical-legal partnership in a VA medical center. Advocates for Immigrant Rights, Community Legal Center and Mid-South Immigration Advocates, three groups that serve immigrants in four southern states, teamed up to create an online platform that eases their referral process.

The American Bar Endowment has supported all these initiatives through its Opportunity Grant Program in recent years and is now looking for the next round of programs and projects aiming to address the public’s critical legal needs. The deadline to apply for the 2021 grant cycle is Oct. 2, with optional letters of intent due by Aug. 21.

“Any 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is contemplating a new and innovative law-related project or program that addresses the needs of underserved communities is welcome to apply,” says Joanne Martin, the ABE’s executive director. “The ABE has awarded past Opportunity Grants to community-based organizations, bar associations and foundations, universities, law schools and legal service providers.”

The ABE, a nonprofit public charity, launched its Opportunity Grant Program in 2017. It has since focused its funding in three key areas: access to justice through innovative legal services delivery, the rule of law and improvement of the justice system and increased public understanding of the law and legal system.

“By focusing on project support, the grants often provide funding specifically for much needed innovations and capacity building for which external financial resources are difficult to find,” says ABE President Carolyn Lamm. “This is an essential focus to help to assure access to justice for all.”

In April, the ABE announced that 10 projects in 11 states and Washington, D.C. would receive a total of nearly $275,000. The grant recipients focused on diverse issues, including elder law and wrongful convictions.

Jonathan Cole, the chair of the ABE Grants Committee, points out that civil legal needs have only increased during the COVID-19 crisis.

“For example, legal providers across the country are anticipating a flood of eviction cases once the moratoriums lift and an increase in family law cases as a result of a greater number of domestic violence incidences,” he says. “While ABE’s Opportunity Grants are modest, they have been and can be an important stream of funding support to assist in addressing critical needs such as these.”

With its annual Opportunity Grants and awards to the American Bar Foundation and ABA Fund for Justice and Education, the ABE has surpassed $300 million in total grants since 1956. It sponsors insurance plans for ABA lawyer-members who can then donate any available dividends back to the ABE. The ABE uses those funds to support the annual grant programs.

More information about the ABE’s Opportunity Grant Program and how to apply, as well as a list of past grantees, can be found at

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