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Our Approach

Nearly two decades of working globally in diverse settings informs our five-point methodology for change.

Our approach aims to maximize scale and sustainability so countries can continue delivering high-quality legal aid long after we are gone. On the ground, we tailor best practices to deliver effective legal aid and meet the needs of the people most often left behind. At the systems level, we share expertise and support governments to adopt meaningful criminal justice reforms and strengthen legal aid.

Assess Local Needs and Circumstances

We respect the legal, cultural and political realities of the countries in which we work, and recognize that responses need to be tailored to local needs and capacities. 


Before any engagement, we conduct a detailed assessment to evaluate the scale of the need for quality legal aid services, and the gap between the law as it is written and the law as it is experienced by ordinary citizens. We aim to understand for example, who is involved in legal aid delivery; any gaps in legal aid provision; the quality of services available; profiles of service seekers; levels of coordination between legal aid and justice sector actors; and the most common violations of the rights of the accused.  Our assessments involve considerable on the ground engagement with advocates and communities so we can understand local needs and barriers to justice for poor and vulnerable accused.


Once we have an understanding of the country context, we develop legal aid performance standards that are based on global best practices in the provision of legal aid, but adapted to local laws and environments. We then develop a practice manual that identifies the rights of accused under local laws as they relate to the provision of meaningful representation. This practice manual is a living document that forms the basis of ILF’s mentoring and training program and ultimately becomes a resource for local lawyers to use in providing quality legal representation to their clients.

Establish Model Legal Aid Offices

We establish legal aid offices to serve as a model for quality, effective legal representation.


Though intensive, case-based mentorship, we inspire local lawyers to transform their roles from passive participants in the criminal justice system to proactive, highly-skilled advocates who protect the innocent, fight for their clients, and hold authorities accountable. Mentoring is uniquely effective in transforming the practice of lawyers as it cultivates their ability to identify problems and find new solutions. It also empowers them to be the first to use new techniques and strategies like alternatives to incarceration and diversion, in countries where these practices are not commonplace. 

Our innovative mentor approach is uniquely effective and efficient, as we embed expert, volunteer, international defense lawyers (known as International Fellows) who intensively mentor local lawyers, day-in, and day-out. This model allows lawyers to develop relevant solutions to legal challenges as they arise on a case by case basis, and develop the best litigation strategy. 

Advance Critical Justice Reforms

Case by case, our litigation protects the rights and liberties of individuals, and over time, lays the groundwork for fairer criminal justice systems. 


New standards and practices introduced by our lawyers, and our legal victories, set new precedents for the implementation of laws and adherence to international standards system-wide. We focus on target areas that drastically impact access to a fair trial such as prompt access to a lawyer, pre-trial detention, access to information, and speedy trials.  We regularly challenge systematic violations and legal trends that are limiting access to justice. We litigate for impact.

Promote Local Ownership and Sustainability

We educate and empower local advocates and organizations and provide expert support to build the capacity of governments to address the gap in access to quality legal aid services. After several years of intensive mentorship in our program offices, the gradual transfer of responsibility, and consensus-building with government, our legal aid offices become independent of the ILF but continue to grow and serve their communities. 


We work closely with governments to shape laws, policies and legal aid institutions that allow for the effective delivery and expansion of criminal legal aid services. We then help ensure those laws, policies, and regulations are actually implemented by justice actors on the ground through our day-to-day casework and advocacy.  


Our case by case approach helps us build understanding with police, prosecutors, judges, and other justice sector actors about the critical importance of legal aid and quality criminal defense in a well-functioning justice system.

Advise and Assist in Legal Aid Reform

Beyond the countries where we currently have legal aid offices, we help governments and legal aid institutions around the world improve access to quality legal aid services.  


The ILF works collaboratively with governments and legal aid institutions and provides expert assistance as they engage in legal aid reform. We help ensure that resulting legal aid policies reflect best practices in legal aid delivery, are centered on people’s fundamental rights, and incorporate standards and best practices on independence ensuring prompt access to legal aid and providing high-quality legal aid services.  


We also regularly participate in UN convened expert groups, inform international standards, and share guidance on how legal aid providers can address violations of the rights of their clients.

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