Access to Justice

Have an innovative idea to serve community legal needs? This ABE grant program could be for you

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Justice Bus

The Legal Aid of the Bluegrass used their 2018 ABE Opportunity Grant to outfit a mobile office dubbed “Justice Bus.” The deadline to apply for the 2019 grants is Oct. 31. Photo courtesy of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass.

Applications are open for the American Bar Endowment's Opportunity Grant Program, which gives one-time monetary awards to innovative legal services or research programs offered by nonprofit groups. Previous Opportunity Grant awardees include Kentucky's Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, which used the money to buy a Mercedes Sprinter van outfitted with a mobile law office, and the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which started a medical-legal partnership embedded in a diagnostic clinic for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

“Usually you have to have an established program, then you go into the funding world to find money. We’re trying to provide seed money for innovative ideas,” says Joanne Martin, the ABE’s executive director. “It’s a way of giving synergy to new ideas that combine the needs of the community with the supply of pro bono lawyers, and the knowledge of legal services needed.”

The deadline to apply for a 2019 ABE Opportunity Grant is Oct. 31, and applications can be found here. A not-for-profit corporate public charity, the ABE sponsors insurance plans for ABA lawyer members. Approximately 83 percent of lawyers with those plans donate any available dividends to the ABE, and that is used to fund the organization’s annual grants, says Martin.

The ABE annually awards grants to the American Bar Foundation, a research institute for the empirical and interdisciplinary study of law, and the ABA Fund for Justice and Education, which supports the organization’s public service and educational programs. Martin says that both of those groups each will receive more than $3.5 million this fiscal year.

But the Opportunity Grant Program is a newer, separate set of grants. The first 15 were awarded in 2017; this is the third year the ABE has offered the grants.

Last year 12 programs were selected for the Opportunity Grant program, totaling $296,654, Martin says. For 2019, she expects that $300,000 in opportunity grants will be awarded. Winners will be notified by February 28, and funding of the grants will take place by April 1.

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