National Legal Aid and Defender Association

Semester: 2022 Fall

Students: Hannah Hsieh & Torian Cook

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association, founded in 1911, is America’s oldest and largest national nonprofit organization dedicated to the excellence in the delivery of legal services for people who cannot afford to pay for counsel, devoting all its resources to advocating for equal access to justice for all.  

Many civil legal aid and public defender organizations, including NLADA itself, have for many decades included as part of their governance structures representatives from client communities, attorneys, and corporate representatives. The differences between the various groups can, at times, result in conflicts among board members, as well as under-participation by community advocates. NLADA seeks the support of the Harvard’s Dispute Systems Design Clinic to conduct a stakeholder assessment to identify best practices for designing inclusive and equitable governance structures that engage community advocates from client communities in important decision making, including as part of the Association’s formal governance structures.   

Students will: 

  • Interview community advocates participating in NLADA’s governance to identify factors in their ability to engage in and inform organizational decision making; 
  • Engage leaders of NLADA member organizations (civil legal aid and public defender organizations) as well as non-community advocate members of NLADA’s governance to understand their perceptions of engagement with community advocates; and 
  • Conduct a literature review to identify whether there are analogous board “best practices” for equitable community engagement in the nonprofit sector. 
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