Organizational case metrics can center values and ensure progress toward program goals

Establishing case metrics, though complicated, is important to set expectations, prepare to scale up a program, and ensure that work is proceeding in line with commitments. Metrics—such as an estimate of the number of clients expected to be served—should be established from a program’s onset and be informed by a reasonable assessment of what can be achieved within the set time frames and with available funding. Unreasonably high metrics will undermine the zealousness of representation and the program’s future scalability by setting an unsustainable precedent for costs.American Bar Association, Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System (Chicago: American Bar Association, 2002), 2, Metrics should be based on the number of clients for whom representation is initiated, rather than cases completed or outcomes, which are outside of even the best attorney’s control. Clients whose cases extend beyond the funding period should be factored into agreed-upon metrics for the future—that is, metrics for subsequent years should include the expected number of carryover clients as well as of new clients the program hopes to represent. Experienced providers have identified this as a key best practice for promoting program sustainability.

Providers and funders should agree on caseload metrics with a spirit of flexibility and a commitment to ongoing open communication to account for the many factors outside of the provider’s control that may influence the numbers of clients ultimately served. When federal immigration policy and legal precedent change, they affect the people who are detained and the resources needed to represent them. The same is true of national crises; the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on immigrants in detention, for example. The stakes for those in detention have become higher than ever, as have the obstacles attorneys have faced to identify, access, and represent them.American Bar Association, Access to Counsel in Immigration Detention in the Time of COVID-19 (Chicago: American Bar Association, 2020), ICE’s temporary decrease in interior enforcement has meant that in some locations, fewer people have needed representation. Nevertheless, representing a relatively smaller number of people has required significantly more resources as legal teams have scrambled to provide remote representation and pursue federal litigation to get their clients out of detention. Metrics have had to be revised to account for this unanticipated development. By contrast, other programs have had additional capacity but were unable to serve people who desperately needed representation because they fell outside the program’s original scope. In some places, providers and funders have agreed to expand the scope of services and serve as many people as possible with that additional capacity. Ongoing communication and coordination among providers and funders have enabled providers to shift tactics and further the program’s goals by zealously representing immigrants even during a life-threatening public health crisis.

Beyond establishing case metrics, government funders should think broadly about using data to measure a program’s overall impact. Consider tracking data that focuses on the overall objectives that governments seek to advance through these programs, such as protecting immigrant communities, improving constituents’ well-being, and promoting racial equity. Data demonstrating the program’s immediate practical implications—such as impacts on legal outcomes, time spent in detention, and release rates—can be paired with stories from clients and other directly affected people to contextualize the rest of the data and describe impacts that statistics alone cannot convey. Although program data generated early on should be considered preliminary because immigration cases can take time to complete, it can nonetheless be illustrative of program impact. Some programs may also consider collecting data to demonstrate how the existing level of funding is insufficient to serve all of those who are in need, such as tracking basic information about how many people a program must turn away from representation after capacity has been met.