The Power of Cy Pres

The Justice Gap Fund harnesses the power of cy pres to level the playing field, support the legal safety net, and remove barriers to building an accessible legal system for all.

Whether you are an attorney, judge, or legal aid office, we all have a role to play in maximizing the potential of cy pres by helping ensure that these funds reach the legal aid organizations that need them.

Attorney, judge, or legal aid office?

As described by California Code of Civil Procedure § 384, counsel can always consider whether eligible residual funds can be made available for court awards to legal aid, whether by direct award to one or more legal aid organizations or through a contribution to the Justice Gap Fund for the benefit of all legal aid organizations. For examples of settlement provisions and orders, see Page 9 of the Expanding Access to Justice through Class Action Residuals and Other Court Awards toolkit below.

Judges play a decisive role in the cy pres process. As the final decision-maker, judges direct and approve cy pres and residual fund designations to the Justice Gap Fund and individual legal aid organizations, as per § 384. For some cases where judges directed or approved designation of residual funds to legal aid organizations or the Justice Gap Fund, see Page 6 of the Expanding Access toolkit below.

Legal aid organizations can receive cy pres and residual funds under § 384, whether by being directly designated as the recipient of the funds or receiving funding through the Justice Gap Fund. For more information on receiving funds as a legal aid organization, see Page 11 of the Expanding Access toolkit below to see if your organization is listed as a possible recipient.

Cy pres

Designate the Justice Gap Fund to receive cy pres and other residual funds. It is a powerful and easy way to increase access to justice. Find out how with the cy pres toolkit, Expanding Access to Justice through Class Action Residuals and Other Court Awards.

About Cy Pres, the Justice Gap Fund,
and the State Bar

What is
cy pres?

The term cy pres” comes from a French term meaning “as near as possible.” Cy pres awards are designated when there are residual funds in class action lawsuits, probate matters, and other proceedings that cannot be distributed to the class members or beneficiaries for a variety of reasons. Courts solve this problem by making cy pres awards to appropriate nonprofit charitable organizations.

California Code of Civil Procedure §384 specifically authorizes the distribution of unpaid residuals from class action litigation to legal services nonprofit organizations funded by the State Bar of California. Funds are distributed “in a manner designed either to further the purposes of the underlying causes of action, or to promote justice for all Californians.” 

What is the Justice Gap Fund?

The State Bar created the Justice Gap Fund to benefit the over 270,000 Californians served by civil nonprofit legal aid organizations. The Justice Gap Fund directly benefits the most vulnerable Californians in legal crisis by providing funding to legal aid organizations that level the playing field, expand the legal safety net, and increase the accessibility of the legal system. 

The State Bar has collected over $1.5 million in cy pres designations to qualified legal aid organizations that provide legal services to indigent people in every county and across a range of substantive areas. 

Why should
cy pres
go to the Justice Gap Fund?

Cy pres is a critical piece of the Justice Gap Fund, and represents an essential part of the funding that legal aid organizations receive to provide services to those who will not otherwise be able to participate in the legal system. 

Not only does the Justice Gap Fund fall squarely within the parameters of § 384, it is a worthy and appropriate beneficiary for residual funds.

Expand Justice Without Conflicts. The State Bar’s mission is to “preserve and improve our justice system in order to ensure a free and justice society under the law.” Because the State Bar does not represent parties in court, there is little possibility for a conflict of interest for the court or defendant.

Benefit a Broad Spectrum of Communities. The Justice Gap Fund is distributed to the network of 100 legal aid organizations that provide free civil legal services to low-income Californians in every county across an array of legal areas, from housing to public benefits to domestic violence. Legal aid organizations step in to level the playing field and reinforce the legal safety net that helps keep families housed, safe, and healthy. 

Employ Key Partnerships. Legal aid organizations leverage their resources by creating partnerships with other organizations, the courts, law schools, law firms, and local, state, and federal governments in order to expanded access to justice by building an inclusive legal system.

Experienced Grant-Maker, Effective Distributions. The State Bar has decades of experience as a grant-making organizations. Grants are funded based on strict statutory criteria: Organizations must meet rigorous quality control standards and demonstrate that their priorities reflect community concerns and needs.

For more information about the Justice Gap Fund, cy pres, or residual funds, contact the Office of Access & Inclusion at the State Bar at (415) 538-2252 or email