The State Bar’s commitments to access, diversity, and inclusion are front and center in the agency’s Strategic Plan, spanning the work of multiple offices. We are the state’s largest legal aid funder. Our many initiatives, outlined below, focus where our statewide reach and role as a regulator enable us to have the greatest impact.
The State Bar's Office of Access & Inclusion and the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission administer grants to nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients; the State Bar is the largest legal aid funder in the state. In 2022 approximately $150 million in grant funding is being distributed to about 100 such nonprofits across California. Find out how to apply.
All lawyer referral services must be certified by the State Bar in order to operate in California. We work to ensure that organizations that refer an attorney to members of the public meet minimum standards, assist those in need of legal services to find a qualified, insured attorney or other appropriate legal services, provide the public with general information about appropriate legal services, and establish services for persons of limited means. This program is administered by the Office of Professional Competence. Find out more about lawyer referral services certification.
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The State Bar waives the active status annual fee for eligible attorneys who do pro bono work exclusively with a qualified legal services provider, a State Bar-certified lawyer referral service, a no-fee or pro bono panel or a court-based self-help center that is in compliance with California Rule of Court 10.960.
The State Bar also support the efforts of Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit that uses technology to improve access to justice. Find out more about pro bono opportunities.
The State Bar has a number of resources to help direct attorneys seeking pro bono opportunities following a disaster. In the aftermath of disasters, volunteers may be needed to help staff a legal hotline or a resource table at recovery centers. Volunteers may also be needed to conduct legal research, volunteer at clinics, or handle pro bono cases to assist survivors. Online training and technical assistance are available.
There are nearly two million veterans in California, and many of them and their families need legal assistance to receive military and other benefits they have earned. Many don't even know about the legal resources available to members of the military.
Free trainings are available to pro bono attorneys in many of these areas.
In 2019, the State Bar completed the first-ever comprehensive study of the California Justice Gap, measuring the Golden State’s civil legal needs and the gap between those needs and the resources available to meet them. Learn more about the 2019 Justice Gap Study.
Legal Market Landscape Report and Task Force: In early 2018, the Board of Trustees commissioned a Legal Market Landscape Report, which identified significant pressures on the legal market that serves individual clients (as opposed to corporate clients). The report led to the formation of the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS). The task force was charged with identifying possible regulatory changes to enhance the delivery of, and access to, legal services through the use of technology, including artificial intelligence and online legal service delivery models. The task force's final report, submitted in March 2020, was the forerunner of the initiatives described below.
Licensing Paraprofessionals The California Paraprofessional Working Group was formed by the State Bar Board of Trustees to develop recommendations for a paraprofessional licensure/certification program to increase access to legal services in California.
The Board accepted final amended recommendations from the working group on May 20, 2022. Assembly Bill 2958, the annual fee bill signed into law on September 18, 2022, directed the State Bar to discontinue further work to advance these recommendations until 2025.
We are posting the work completed to date here to assist other jurisdictions who may be pursuing similar solutions. Here are summary tables of the working group’s recommendations in specific areas:
Regulatory Changes The Closing the Justice Gap Working Group was formed by the State Bar Board of Trustees to explore the creation of a regulatory sandbox to encourage the development of innovative legal service delivery models for Californians at all income levels (Full charter here).
Assembly Bill 2958, the annual fee bill signed into law on September 18, 2022, placed stringent limits on the State Bar's ability to move forward on a proposal of this nature and breadth; as a result, the working group is being disbanded. We are posting the work completed to date here to assist other jurisdictions who may be pursuing similar solutions.
Since 1997, the State Bar, in collaboration with the California Access to Justice Commission, has published reports and studies on issues to improve access to civil justice for Californians. Read our publications addressing legal aid, veterans needs, and rural opportunities.