Closing the Justice Gap

By Giving List Staff   |   November 26, 2022
Legal Aid changes lives through advice, legal representation, and community education.

Civil legal representation is expensive. Even basic legal services cost thousands of dollars. If you are struggling to pay rent, how do you pay for an attorney to fight an illegal eviction? If you are a stay-at-home mom, and a victim of domestic violence, how can you pay a lawyer?

The Family Violence Prevention attorneys participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County provides high-quality civil legal services to the most vulnerable people. Starting in 1959 with a few volunteers, the foundation has transformed into a full-fledged, county-wide, nonprofit law firm. Employing 12 lawyers and six legal support staff, the foundation provides legal services to lower-income individuals, people with mental and physical disabilities, senior citizens, and survivors of domestic violence. The foundation has offices in Santa Barbara, Lompoc, and Santa Maria. All services are provided free of charge.

According to Executive Director Jennifer Smith, the foundation provides an invaluable service. “We all know that if you are accused of a crime, you are guaranteed access to counsel,” Smith says. “But, if you need a restraining order against an abuser, or if you are at risk of homlessness due to an unjust eviction, you are not automatically provided counsel.”

Access to legal representation can be a life or death matter. In one case, the foundation worked with an immigrant family where the mother and children were the victims of ongoing domestic abuse. The abuse had flown under the radar for years due to a language and cultural barrier. Eventually, local police got involved. The police then reached out to the foundation. 

Legal aid attorneys worked to obtain a restraining order, ensured the family was able to receive counseling and support, and even helped the family obtain visas to remain in the United States. As a result, the mother was able to secure a job and gain financial independence from the abuser. All free to the family.

In addition to providing court representation, the foundation maintains self-service stations at courthouses throughout the county. Individuals can receive guidance on completing legal paperwork, and advice on navigating the legal process. The self-service stations even help the government reduce costs by ensuring required processes are followed, and paperwork isn’t repeatedly rejected.  


Legal Aid Foundation

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(805) 963-6754 x103
Executive Director: Jennifer R. Smith


Our mission is to provide high-quality civil legal services to low-income and other vulnerable residents in order to ensure equal access to justice. We change lives through direct representation, legal advice and information, and community education.

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We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s director of development and/or Executive Director.

I am extremely appreciative of the help I received from the Legal Aid Foundation. They were thorough, assuring, and knowledgeable during a very uncertain time when I lacked the resources to otherwise receive a reasonable outcome with the housing crisis I faced.
Homelessness Prevention Client

Help Bridge the Gap

Despite the growth of the foundation, more resources are needed. The State Bar of California estimates an additional 9,000 full-time legal aid lawyers are needed to address the justice gap in the state. Santa Barbara County is no exception. In fact, the Legal Aid Foundation is seeking an additional attorney to help meet the growing needs of the Family Violence Prevention program.  

The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County seeks donations to help close the justice gap between the most vulnerable people and the rest of society. Donations help pay the costs to represent clients, and provide programs that prevent violence, protect the elderly, assist the poor, and help the disabled.

Key Supporters

In Memory of D. William (Bill) Wagner
Alan Blakeboro
Susan Thompson
Crystal Forsher
Julianna Malis
Jena Acos
Saji Dias Gunawardane
Tim Harrington
Wendy Kosche
Alexander Saunders
Becky Steiger
Garry Tetalman
State Bar of California
California Judicial Council
California Access to
Justice Commission
California Governor’s Office of
Emergency Services,
Victim Services Branch
Hutton Parker Foundation
Yardi Systems