Access to Justice

ABE Opportunity Grants support projects focusing on elder law, immigrant rights

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For the fourth year in a row, the American Bar Endowment is supporting organizations that focus on addressing the urgent legal needs of underserved communities across the country.

The not-for-profit public charity, which launched its Opportunity Grant Program in 2017, announced that 10 “innovative, boots-on-the-ground projects” would receive a total of nearly $275,000 in April. The grant recipients work across 11 states and Washington, D.C., and on diverse issues, including elder law, wrongful convictions and immigration.

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“I am absolutely thrilled that we started this program,” says Joanne Martin, the ABE’s executive director. Martin says the organization is able to support new and innovative programs that facilitate the delivery of legal services, and while the grants are not large, they go a long way to assisting providers with their work.

Martin adds that the program has become even more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, as law firms face tough decisions about cutting funds that they would normally donate to legal services providers in their communities.

The 2020 Opportunity Grant recipients include Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, a free civil legal services provider that assists seniors in Broward County. With the $32,000 it received from the ABE, the organization intends to initiate a pilot program that includes mobile service delivery for elderly clients who are isolated or homebound.

Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles also received a $37,000 Opportunity Grant to help women who are wrongly incarcerated. The project will use the funds to identify and investigate cases involving female defendants who were convicted after juries relied on false forensic evidence or when no crime occurred, as well as to create a best practices guide for other innocence projects, medical examiners and forensic pathologists.

This year’s Opportunity Grant recipients also include organizations that are teaming up to expand outreach and support in their communities, Martin says. As one example, the ABE gave $26,000 to Advocates for Immigrant Rights, Community Legal Center and Mid-South Immigration Advocates, three groups that serve immigrants in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. They plan to use their funds to create an online platform that facilitates referrals between each other, social service agencies and pro bono counsel and other legal services providers.

“It really is a collaboration across some of these smaller entities because they really understand how integrated the communities are,” Martin says. “They are broadening the scope of their work and that is an exciting trend.”

In addition to Opportunity Grants, the ABE also announced that it awarded nearly $3.4 million each to the American Bar Foundation and ABA Fund for Justice and Education to support legal service, education and research programs.

With these awards, the ABE surpassed $300 million in total grants since 1956, Martin says. The ABE 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.

The ABE’s 2021 Opportunity Grant Program cycle will open on July 1. More information about the process and deadlines to apply for these grants can be found at

See also:

ABA Journal: “Attorney uses photography and storytelling for legal empowerment”

ABA Journal: “ABE grant expands services for victims of rape and sexual assault in the military”

ABA Journal: “ABE grant helps Iowa open legal clinics in VA medical centers”

Updated on April 29 to paraphrase a quote.

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