Legal Defense Fund Grants

The NASW Legal Defense Fund (LDF) was established in 1972 by the NASW Board of Directors to advance the legal interests of the social work profession. One of the major ways in which this is done is through grants of financial assistance to defray the legal expenses of NASW members engaged in litigation related to the NASW Code of Ethics, social work principles, and/or standards of social work practice advocated by the association. 

LDF is administered by a Board of Trustees appointed by the President of NASW. The Trustees meet twice a year, in the spring and fall, to review all properly completed applications that meet LDF qualifications and to conduct other business required for the administration of the Fund.


The following questions should be addressed when completing the attached application. The information will be considered during the application review process to determine whether a matter will receive financial support from the LDF fund:

  • Whether the applicant is an active member of NASW;
  • Whether the issues presented in the application are significant to the social work profession;
  • Whether the legal matter/lawsuit involves the NASW Code of Ethics or principles and standards of social work practice advocated by NASW;
  • Whether funds are needed to initiate legal action which promotes the interests of the social work profession or of a significantly large group of NASW members. Examples of issues of interest include pay equity, client confidentiality, restrictions or prohibitions on the right of social workers to join professional organizations, regulatory restrictions that improperly limit social work practice, etc.;
  • Whether there is a likelihood of success in the legal action.

  Download Application Form

Application Deadline

All applications must be received by the Legal Defense Fund no later than April 29, 2024, in order to be considered by the LDF Board of Trustees at their next scheduled meeting.

Note: Financial support for LDF is received from voluntary contributions, principally from the LDF check-off on the NASW member dues renewal form. The Trustees’ ability to provide assistance to association members is limited by the contributions received and resources available.

Individual Case Support Guidelines

Revised: March 31, 1998

The NASW Legal Defense Fund Fund Trust Agreement provides as one of its six purposes:

(1) to provide funds to help defray the cost of counsel and other legal expenses for the effective assistance of NASW members

(a) where difficulties are related to the goals, objectives and/or standards of social work practice advocated by NASW; and

(b) for whom help is essential to obtain the legal or other services required.

(See Trust Agreement, pgs. 4-5)

In order to effectuate these goals and to establish guidelines for providing financial assistance in response to individual requests, the following criterion will be used to guide the Trustees in allocating funds to a particular case.

Primary Criteria

  • the significance/importance of the legal issues, as described in the application, to the goals and objectives of the social work profession;
  • the possibility of establishing a beneficial legal precedent for the social work profession;
  • the need to uphold the Code of Ethics or the principles and/or standards of social work practice advocated by NASW, rather than taking actions for some personal benefit to the applicant alone; and
  • the presence of meritorious claims.

The following secondary considerations will also be used when reviewing applications:

  • the number of cases to be considered for funding;
  • the possibility of continuing funding into a second or additional fiscal year;
  • the demands for funds for other projects of importance to LDF

Generally, financial assistance provided to individual NASW members’ LDF applications should be viewed as contributing support for a portion of the litigation costs but not normally underwriting the entire case. Occasionally an individual application may meet the criterion articulated in Purpose (3) of the Trust agreement:

(3) to promote the interests of the social work profession or of a significantly large group of NASW members in such matters as pay equity and declassification, and/or to challenge restrictions that tend to bar social workers from qualifying as providers of services under certain managed care arrangements or in other health and mental health settings.

Such cases may require a larger and ongoing commitment of funds. In addition, the member’s chapter may be requested to consider fundraising. In order to balance the demands for LDF financial support, individual case allocations will generally not exceed $3,000-$5,000 in any one year. In addition, members will be requested to repay from any settlement or court award, the monies paid by the Fund to support their litigation.