The second half of the 1970s marked the heyday of growth for the legal services program:

  • Local legal services programs were established to provide service to poor people in every county in the country.
  • A network of migrant and Native American programs or units of local programs was created, covering most areas where those special client populations lived or worked.
  • A system of state support began to emerge.
  • Several new national support centers were established.
  • LSC began a national training program for lawyers.
  • The number of legal services program staff around the country increased significantly.
  • LSC funding rose dramatically from $92.3 million in 1976 to $321 million in 1981.
  • In 1977, Congress reauthorized the LSC Act for an additional three years.

Despite the efforts by critics in the early 1970s to destroy the legal services program, once it was established LSC became an effective institution with broad-based support from Congress,the bar, and the general public. As a consequence, effective enforcement of the rights of the low-income community was becoming a reality. In many areas of the country—especially the South, Southwest, and Plains states, where legal services programs had never before existed—this enforcement was happening for the very first time. The significant legal victories of the 1960s, which established new constitutional, statutory, and common-law rights for the poor, were finally becoming a reality for low-income clients who lived where legal services had not previously been available.

With the growth of the legal services program came significant changes in the ways in which poverty advocacy was conducted and in the manner in which services were delivered, along with changes in the role of LSC. At the local and state level, advocates became more specialized. Separate units for “law reform” work that had been the hallmark of OEO-funded legal services programs were incorporated into the general framework of the program, and efforts were made to better integrate law reform and basic service work. Local program staff received more and better training, and coordination between and among programs increased. New fields of poverty law emerged, such as advocacy for persons with disabilities,veterans, nursing home residents, the institutionalized and other groups with special problems of access to legal services. Paralegals developed into full-fledged advocates and included among their numbers many former clients, as well as former social workers and community activists. Quality improved, but national standards were not fully developed until1986 when the ABA promulgated Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Services to the Poor. Programs and advocates became more professional. Increased attention was devoted to supervision of legal work, case reviews, evaluation, and other methods of ensuring high quality representation.

As the legal services program expanded nationally, a new focus also developed at the local level. Local control became the new legal services mantra. Local priority setting required by the LSC Act became a central tenet in determining how each program would decide which substantive areas to emphasize and which types of cases to accept for representation.

LSC made no effort to directly set national substantive goals, but its staff conducted research and analysis to enable it to provide programs with options and ideas for local consideration. LSC created the Research Institute, which provided poverty law research, conducted seminars on emerging poverty law issues, and developed new issues. The Office of Program Support conducted an extensive training program and produced a large number of substantive and skills manuals. National support centers continued to engage in both support and direct representation, but their influence on local substantive work waned as the number of major constitutional and statutory cases declined and regulatory and law enforcement practice that required sustained advocacy at the state and local level increased. Many more local and state advocates emerged as new national leaders on substantive areas of law, often working in conjunction with advocates from state and national support centers.