History of Delaware Legal Services and the Combined Campaign for Justice
Delaware’s Combined Campaign for Justice (CCJ) was established in 1999 as a partnership of the Delaware State Bar Association (DSBA), Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI), Delaware Volunteer Legal Services (DVLS) and Legal Services Corporation of Delaware (LSCD). These partners joined to increase the availability of civil legal services to disadvantaged people in Delaware by increasing the resources available to fund legal services.
Legal Aid in Delaware
Delaware lawyers created an organization to serve people of low income in 1946, when bar leaders founded the Legal Aid Society in Wilmington. According to The Delaware Bar in the Twentieth Century, H. Winslow, ed. (1994), it happened this way:
During a bumpy plane ride to Philadelphia from Cleveland where they had attended the 1945 American Bar Association annual meeting, Collins J. Seitz and William Poole discussed the idea of starting a legal aid society in Delaware. They were inspired by a speech given at the meeting by Harrison Tweed, known as the father of legal aid in America.
That organization grew to become CLASI, a state-wide agency of full time staff by the early 1970’s, providing civil legal services to thousands of Delawareans in matters of basic need – landlord/tenant, welfare rights, consumer protection, domestic violence and family law cases.
The DSBA established DVLS in 1981 in association with the Widener University School of Law, to coordinate the pro bono publico work of Delaware lawyers and match law school clinic students with indigent clients.
From 1974 through 1995, CLASI received a significant portion of its funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Congress imposed programmatic restrictions on that funding in 1996 which resulted in a conflict for CLASI and the services they provided, so that year CLASI worked with the DSBA to form LSCD, an agency that would work within the federal restrictions and therefore be eligible to receive the federal LSC funds.
Since 1996, Delaware has had three nonprofit organizations addressing the civil legal needs of low income Delawareans, coordinated through the DSBA Standing Committee on Serving the Legal Needs of Low Income Persons. Using consistent income eligibility criteria, CLASI, DVLS and LSCD each concentrates on discreet areas of the law, in order to promote efficiency and reduce duplication.
CLASI, DVLS and LSCD were each funded through federal and state funding as well as through fund raising efforts on the part of their boards. Most of that fund raising was through solicitations of members of the Delaware Bar since many Delaware lawyers are committed to equal access to justice and, consequently, are quite supportive of legal services. With three nonprofit organizations soliciting lawyers for contributions, it quickly became evident that a coordinated approach to fund raising was the best way to maximize the resources the Bar could make available for this important work.
Founding of the Combined Campaign for Justice
The DSBA Standing Committee on Serving the Legal Needs of Low Income Persons, under the leadership of then President-elect Donald F. Parsons, Jr., organized a historic campaign to jointly approach Delaware lawyers for financial support. In 1998, the Steering Committee for the Combined Campaign for Justice was established under the leadership of Don Parsons and with representatives of DSBA, CLASI, DVLS and LSCD. The parties agreed to jointly raise funds from the bar for three years, and they agreed to a formula for distribution. The Campaign hired part-time clerical support and a fund raising consultant. Each of the organizations assumed some of the campaign responsibility. The Campaign kicked off on March 1, 1999.
In the first year, the funds raised by the Combined Campaign for Justice far exceeded the amount that the three organizations had raised separately. In each subsequent year, in addition to an annual mail solicitation, campaign chairs along with volunteer lawyer-solicitors from law firms, banks and corporations, have worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the annual Campaign. The campaign volunteers engage in face-to-face solicitation and follow up phone calls and emails. The money raised allows the legal services providers to hire, and to keep, qualified attorneys to represent Delawareans of meager means in cases of tremendous import. Victims of domestic violence, illegal eviction, fraud, and government misfeasance have greater access to the justice system.