The State Bar’s Legal Services Trust Fund Program administers three funds: Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), the state Equal Access Fund (EAF), and the Justice Gap Fund. These funds are granted to nonprofit organizations that provide free civil legal services to Californians who have low and moderate incomes. Find out more about the State Bar’s legal aid funding.
Applications for IOLTA/EAF funding are generally available online in early April for the subsequent grant year and are due in mid-May. See sample applications, guidelines, and contact information for our grant program.
The legal aid grant program was established in 1984 to distribute IOLTA revenue to nonprofit legal aid organizations, in accordance with California Business and Professions Code section 6210, et seq. (the Statute). Each year, the State Bar of California awards approximately $30 million in IOLTA and EAF grants to approximately 100 nonprofit organizations.
Grantees are funded to provide civil legal services without charge. Grants cannot be used to fund assistance in criminal law matters, outside California, or matters involving nonindigent clients. “Indigent” is defined by the Statute to include individuals whose income is 200 percent or less of the federal poverty threshold, who are eligible for Supplemental Security Income, and/or who are eligible for free services under the Older Americans Act or Developmentally Disabled Assistance Act. In the case of certain grantees whose principal means of service delivery in a given county is through pro bono attorneys, “indigent” also includes any person whose income is 75 percent or less of the maximum levels of income for lower-income households as defined in California Health & Safety Code section 50079.5. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6213 (d)).
Grants support work on a wide spectrum of legal issues including family law, landlord-tenant, restraining orders, probate, adoption and guardianship, workplace and employment issues, debt and fraud, immigration and citizenship, and senior services, among other areas. A full list of 2024 grantees is available online.
Under authority delegated by the State Bar Board of Trustees, eligibility for grants is determined by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission. The Statute has been implemented through a number of State Bar Rules and the Eligibility Guidelines for Legal Services Projects and Eligibility Guidelines for Support Centers.
The statute provides for grants to two kinds of organizations:
Pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 6213(a), a "qualified legal services project" means either of the following:
(1) A nonprofit project incorporated and operated exclusively in California that provides as its primary purpose and function legal services without charge to indigent persons and that has quality control procedures approved by the State Bar.
(2) A program operated exclusively in California by a nonprofit law school accredited by the State Bar that has been in operation for at least two years at a cost of at least $20,000 dollars per year as an indentifiable law school unit with a primary purpose and function of providing legal services without charge to indigent persons. The program must have quality control procedures approved by the State Bar.
A “qualified support center” is defined as an incorporated nonprofit legal services center that has as its primary purpose and function the provision of legal training, legal technical assistance, or advocacy support without charge, and which actually provides through an office in California a significant level of legal training, legal technical assistance, or advocacy support without charge to QLSPs on a statewide basis in California. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6213(b)).
Applicants must meet the primary purpose requirements described in Business and Professions Code section 6213 (see descriptions above for Qualified Legal Services Projects and Qualified Support Centers). Additionally, in determining primary purpose:
Per State Bar Rule 3.671:
A QLSP is presumed to meet the primary purpose and function requirement when 75 percent or more of its expenditures are directed to free legal services to indigent people.
A Qualified Support Center is presumed to meet primary purpose and function if 75 percent or more of its expenditures are directed to providing legal support services without charge (legal training, legal technical assistance, and advocacy support.)
Applicants must provide an audited financial statement by an independent certified public accountant, or a financial review if its gross corporate expenditures are less than $500,000. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6222; State Bar Rule 3.680(E)(1); Eligibility Guideline 2.7.1).
Eligibility for legal aid grants is determined by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission, subject to approval by the State Bar Board of Trustees. Potential applicants may refer to the following considerations in assessing whether or not to pursue funding:
Your organization may be eligible if your organization is applying as a Legal Services Project:
Your organization does not charge for its services
The majority of your organization's expenses are directly related to providing legal services to indigent people in California
The vast majority of your organization's clients are under 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold, are eligible for Supplemental Security Income, or are eligible for free services under the Older Americans Act or Developmentally Disabled Assistance Act
Your organization has clear quality control procedures
If your organization is a law school clinic, the clinic has operated for at least two years at a cost of at least $20,000 per year and is an identifiable unit of the law school (e.g., autonomous leadership, designated office space, separate financial schedule for the clinic).
If your organization is applying for a pro bono county allocation, it annually recruits at least 30 attorneys, 5 percent of its county’s actively volunteering attorneys, or 1,000 hours of volunteered attorney time, and meets additional requirements to demonstrate that the principal means of delivery of service is through pro bono.
If your organization is applying as a Support Center:
The majority of your organizations expenses are directly related to providing legal support services without charge
Your organization provides a significant amount of legal support services (legal training, legal technical assistance, advocacy support) to QLSPs in California without charge
Your organization may be ineligible if your organization is applying as a Legal Services Project:
If you are applying as a Support Center:
IOLTA grants and “IOLTA-Formula” Equal Access Fund grants utilize the same formula for determining grant amounts. The statutory formula that determines grant amounts is based on the grantees’ expenditures for civil legal aid without charge to indigent persons. Based on the statutory formula, funding can range from under $10,000 for smaller programs to over $1,000,000 for larger programs. The formula for calculating IOLTA grant distributions, found in Business and Professions Code section 6216, is as follows:
Organizations interested in applying for legal aid grants should visit the online grant portal to review California Business and Professions Code sections 6210–6228, the State Bar Rules, the relevant Eligibility Guidelines, and a sample application. After reviewing these authorities, if your organization is interested in applying please contact the Office of Access & Inclusion to set up an introductory call. As the application process is time-intensive, we find it is beneficial for new organizations to discuss eligibility requirements and grantee obligations before completing an application.
If you have questions about applying for a grant or to set up an introductory call, call 415-538-2252 or email email@example.com.