Latham Partners Help Legal Aid DC Launch Endowment

By Alison Knezevich | July 7, 2023, 4:18 PM EDT ·

Vikram Swaruup
Vikram Swaruup
David Dantzic
David Dantzic
A new $5 million endowment established by Legal Aid DC, with the help of supporters including Latham & Watkins LLP, will boost efforts to provide services to low-income residents, in a move that aims to ensure long-term financial stability in times of uncertainty.

The Making Justice Real endowment will fund Legal Aid DC's general operating expenses, including direct civil legal services in areas such as housing, domestic violence, public benefits, debt collection and immigration, Legal Aid officials recently told Law360.

Every year, the organization advocates for funding from the Washington, D.C., government and raises money from private donors, largely people in the legal community, according to its executive director, Vikram Swaruup.

Such efforts, though, come with year-to-year uncertainty.

"The years in which we face that uncertainty are also frequently when there's an economic downturn, which obviously hurts our clients significantly and increases the need even more," he said. "So in those years, we'll be able to really rely on these funds from the endowment to help us make sure … that we can meet the needs of our clients who are living in poverty and facing these legal difficulties."

Most of the funds have been pledged as part of donors' estate planning, Legal Aid DC said in a statement.

Latham partner David Dantzic, a longtime Legal Aid DC board member who served as board president from 2018 to 2021, said that the organization's budget has grown from $3.1 million in 2010 to more than $12.3 million.

But "the place where we saw we didn't have a ton of traction was legacy giving," he told Law360. "And I have seen at other organizations that I'm on the board of, how transformative that can be. People are much more likely to give you large gifts … as part of their estate."

The organization set out about four years ago to create a permanent capital vehicle focused on legacy giving, but the initiative was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dantzic, who received a Legal Aid DC Servant of Justice award this year.

Dantzic said Latham matched a $250,000 donation from him and his wife, Martha. The fund currently has about $600,000 in cash, with about $5 million in pledges.

The donors include 21 people, most of whom are either current or former Legal Aid DC board members or other Legal Aid financial supporters, he said.

The endowment will help diversify the organization's funding going forward, Dantzic said.

Local legal aid groups faced the possibility of significant public budget cuts from D.C.'s government this year, but funding was ultimately restored.

The expiration of pandemic-related aid and legal protections has contributed to increased demand for services, providers have said.

"Right now we're seeing a surge in need for legal services compared to a year ago," Swaruup told Law360, with calls for help up 20% in the first five months of the year, and an even higher increase for eviction cases.

The endowment "represents another way in which the law firm community and the legal services community can really work together to serve district residents who have significant legal needs," he said.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!