The Case for Iowa Legal Aid

Iowa Legal Aid Foundation

Spring Summer 2012 Equal Justice Update

The Iowa Legal Aid Foundation was created in 2005 as the philanthropic fundraising entity for Iowa Legal Aid. The Foundation has evolved into an independent nonprofit organization with a committed Board of Directors, raising over $400,000 in 2011 to support Iowa Legal Aid.

Donations can be made to Iowa Legal Aid by mail to 1111 9th Street, Suite 230, Des Moines, Iowa 50314 or you may visit the Iowa Legal Aid Foundation website and select the "donate" button to make a secure on-line donation. Donations to Iowa Legal Aid are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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Our Core Values

Iowa Legal Aid is dedicated to:

  • High quality work, which includes responding quickly to new circumstances, developing creative solutions for client problems, tenacity and professionalism.
  • Clients, who deserve respect, dignity, compassion, fairness, hope and unwavering commitment.
  • All Iowa Legal Aid staff, because the best solutions come from effective teamwork.
  • A system of civil justice that provides meaningful opportunities to resolve disputes fairly for all persons, irrespective of income.
  • A legal system that affords protections for the least powerful.
  • Ensuring that low-income Iowans have access to the services they need, including legal assistance, and to information that enables them to advocate successfully for their own goals.
  • Actively engaging volunteer attorneys in the delivery of legal services, and
  • Ensuring that the organization is administered with integrity, competence and efficiency, through an engaged and effective Board of Directors and management team.

Iowans' sense of fair play and the promise of "equal justice under law" requires access to expert legal advice.  People without an attorney must appear in court or try to protect their rights by themselves.  Iowa Legal Aid and volunteer attorneys provide vital legal assistance to low-income people with both complex and routine problems, while helping the legal system operate more efficiently and effectively.


Every morning 100,000 Iowa children awake in poverty.  They awaken into a family whose income will deny them access to justice, and will deny their hope for a brighter future.

Iowa's working poor find poverty is a compounding scourge, with its unique legal issues often depriving families not only of their dignity, but also denying them all hope of breaking free of its cyclic grip. Legal services, while important to all in the community, are of particular importance to low-income and elderly Iowans who often need the assistance of a lawyer to secure their basic needs; the need to live in a safe and stable home free of violence, the need for protection from consumer fraud that steals a family's income, or the need for quality healthcare. 

Imagine what it would be like to be poor and about to be evicted because you complained about the leak that occurs every time it rains.

Or your spouse abuses you, the violence is beginning to escalate, you have no money and two little children.

Or you are an 84-year-old widow with a big debt created by your spouse.  His credit card company threatens to take payment directly from your meager bank account, leaving you with little to pay your bills.

Or perhaps you are a returning veteran, needing help to secure the assistance that can set your life back on a path to normalcy.

These are just a few of the thousands of stories heard at Iowa Legal Aid every year.  They are typical of the legal issues that uniquely face low-income Iowans.


  • In 2011 Iowa Legal Aid closed nearly 22,200 cases serving an estimated 53,500 Iowans, 23,000 of whom were children.
  • Another 15,000 families were turned away or underserved for lack of resources.
  • Iowa Legal Aid is the statewide provider of civil legal representation to low-income Iowans working out of 10 regional offices geographically dispersed throughout the state.  Staff attorneys are augmented by more than 2,900 volunteer attorneys donating over $2 million in pro bono services every year.
  • Iowa Legal Aid is the recognized expert on poverty law in Iowa, working in conjunction and consultation with other human services agencies, the courts, and other law firms.
  • Iowa Legal Aid provides information and education for over 100,000 Iowans annually through a series of outreach programs.
  • Women and children seeking freedom from abuse and elderly Iowans seeking to preserve an acceptable standard of living are the largest segments of Iowa Legal Aid's clients.
  • Iowa Legal Aid is a sound investment for Iowa
    • Often federal dollars are brought into the state, lessening the burden on state and local resources.  Reversing unjust denials of Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability, and Medicare/Medicaid claims reduces the burden on state and local support systems.
    • Families that are protected from unjust eviction do not become a burden on cities, counties and the state in homeless shelters.
    • Providing for the safety and security of low-income families stabilizes the workforce.
  • Beyond the general practice of civil representation, Iowa Legal Aid operates several specialized programs, including, but not limited to:
    • Legal Hotline for Older Iowans: Provides legal advice, information and referral to Iowans 60 years of age or older.
    • Volunteer Lawyers Project: Unites low-income clients with private practice attorneys willing to accept pro-bono cases.
    • Health and Law Project: Works in the medical community to identify and address legal issues that are the underlying cause of chronic medical conditions.
    • Equal Justice Project: Works to identify best practices of the legal community to lift victims from the cycle of domestic abuse.
    • Returning Veterans Legal Assistance Program: Provides free legal counseling to Iowa's service members and their spouses before, during and after their service in support of the global war against terrorism.


  • A victim of domestic violence who, along with her children, is in need of the intervention of the courts in order to ensure her safety, maintain shelter, obtain support and the ability to move on from a violent past to a productive future is helped in all those pursuits by Iowa Legal Aid.
  • An elderly and disabled Iowan is denied in-home assistance.  Iowa Legal Aid appeals the Medicaid decision, thereby allowing him to stay at home and saving the state $2,000 a month in comparison to nursing home costs.
  • A family is assisted in applying for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps maintain family income so that housing is maintained and food and basic necessities are available for all family members.
  • A veteran, who is unable to work as a result of problems encountered in the service of his country, needs help in establishing eligibility for veteran's assistance which will provide much needed income for his family.
  • A nursing home seeks to discharge an elderly resident rather than supply his special needs.  Iowa Legal Aid helps his wife stop that discharge and ensure his needs are met.
  • A young family falls victim to a contract home sales scheme.  Iowa Legal Aid succeeds in avoiding unfair collection of the mortgage and in holding the responsible entities accountable.
  • Iowa Legal Aid helps an Iowan who is mentally ill avoid homelessness by negotiating with the housing agency that is going to suspend her assistance when she voluntarily enters a mental health treatment program.
  • A homeless veteran suffering the complications of post traumatic stress disorder is represented by Iowa Legal Aid at a Social Security hearing and is granted retroactive disability status ,which allows him to receive both his needed medications and adequate income to move from the ranks of the homeless.
  • When the father of her daughter is arrested for drug possession with intent to deliver, a woman seeks legal assistance to obtain a custody order with restricted visitation in order to ensure the safety of her child.

"I was lost and I was alone. 
As soon as I reached Iowa Legal Aid
my dignity was restored." 
--An Eastern Iowa Client  

While the relief expressed by this woman typifies the impact legal aid services have upon the lives of our clients, the impact does not stop there. Investing in Iowans is investing in Iowa. Lifting those close to the edge to a more secure place often allows those families to escape the grip of poverty and to contribute to the common good and the economic health of the state.  Those who might become an expense, become an asset. And while no one has yet measured the worth of protecting a child from an abusive home, no one has denied that value either.

Iowa Legal Aid is the statewide provider of free civil legal services for low-income Iowans. The organization has assisted Iowans in need for more than 30 years, currently operating from 10 regional offices across the state providing service in all 99 of Iowa's counties.

On average, Iowa Legal Aid can provide free legal consultation or representation to a family for less than $500. This remarkable cost efficiency is due to Iowa Legal Aid's delivery of service at a cost of less than $70 per hour. This compares to $140 per hour, which is the median hourly rate charged by private attorneys statewide and is indicative of the leverage the organization provides donor dollars through its ability to efficiently deliver service.

In our system of justice, a low-income criminal is afforded legal representation at no cost.  Low-income victims of injustice involving civil (non-criminal) matters are without recourse and often must simply accept an unjust outcome. Iowa Legal Aid serves to address that inequity by providing free civil representation through both its staff attorneys and lawyers in private practice who volunteer.

Iowa Legal Aid continues to be there when Iowans need a hand up from the grip of poverty.

To help make equal justice a reality for persons who would otherwise be without counsel in your community, visit the Campaign for Equal Justice donations page on the Iowa Legal Aid website, or contact Dennis Groenenboom at 515-243-2980, extension 1620

(for legal help call the intake line at 1-800-532-1275)

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