1996-2009: Legal Services After the Restrictions

Since 1996, the legal services landscape has undergone a dramatic transformation. Legal services has seen a reduction in the total number of LSC grantees from more than 325programs in 1995 to 133 in 2018, and the geographic areas served by many of the remaining programs have increased dramatically. These changes were the result of the Congressional elimination of funding for state and national support entities and the mergers and reconfigurations promoted or sometimes imposed by LSC.

The network of state and federal support entities formerly funded by LSC has been substantially curtailed, and some of its components have been completely dismantled. This network, which had consisted of state and national support centers; the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, which published the poverty law journal The Clearinghouse Review; and various training programs, had developed quality standards, engaged in delivery research, provided training to support legal services advocacy, and served as the infrastructure that linked all of the LSC-funded providers into a single national legal services program. Since the loss of their LSC funding, several of the national support centers that had focused solely on issues affecting the low-income community have broadened their focus to attract new sources of funds. Several closed their doors when they were unable to raise sufficient funds to operate effectively.

At the state level, the network of LSC-funded support centers has been replaced by a group of independent non-LSC funded entities engaged in state advocacy that operate in over 30states. Only 12 of the current state entities are former LSC-funded state support centers. Several states have been unable to recreate a significant state support capacity at all. Recently, the Shriver National Center on Poverty law (successor to the National Clearinghouse) has, with foundation support, created the Legal Impact Network that brings together many state advocacy programs and strong legal and policy advocates from throughout the country who are using innovative, coordinated strategies to address poverty and advance racial justice.

At the same time, new legal services delivery systems have begun emerging in many states that include both LSC-funded programs, operating within the constraints of Congressionally imposed restrictions, as well as separate non-LSC-funded legal services providers that operate unencumbered by the LSC restrictions. Many of these non-LSC-funded providers were created specifically in response to the imposition of the restrictions, when LSC-funded programs either gave up their LSC grants or spun off new entities that were supported with non-LSC funds that formerly went to the LSC recipients. The non-LSC-funded providers are generally free to seek attorneys’ fees, as are LSC grantees since the end of 2009; engage in class actions, welfare reform advocacy, or representation before legislature and administrative bodies; and provide assistance to aliens and prisoners, as long as their public and private funders permit their resources to be used for those activities. In 14 states and more than 20 large- or medium-size cities, two or more parallel LSC- and non-LSC-funded legal service providers operate in the same or overlapping geographic service areas.

Moreover, in a number of jurisdictions, the private bar became increasingly more involved in delivering basic legal services, as well as in undertaking those cases and activities that LSC recipients are prohibited from handling.

This new statewide system is emerging in large part because, beginning in 1995, in anticipation of funding cuts and the imposition of new restrictions, LSC initiated a strategic program that required all of its grantees to engage with non-LSC-funded providers, bar associations and state access to justice commissions, law schools, and other important stakeholders in each state in a state planning process. The goal was to develop a comprehensive, integrated system of legal service delivery for each state. Hallmarks of the new statewide delivery systems were to include a capacity for state-level advocacy; a single point of entry for all clients into the legal services system through a centralized telephone intake system; integration of LSC and non-LSC legal services providers;equitable allocation of resources among providers and geographic areas in the state;representation of low-income clients in all forums; and access to a full range of legal services, regardless of where the clients live, the language they speak, or the ethnic or cultural group with which they identify. States with large numbers of small LSC-funded legal services providers were urged to consider mergers and consolidation of local programs into larger and arguably more efficient regional or statewide programs, leading to the reconfiguration and reorganization of the legal services delivery systems in many states.

In addition to the state planning initiative that came from LSC, the Project for the Future of Equal Justice, a joint program of NLADA and CLASP, undertook a series of projects to promote the development of comprehensive, integrated statewide delivery systems. The ABA joined the effort by encouraging bar leaders to participate in state planning and to promote statewide, integrated systems. In February 1996, NLADA and the ABA created the State Planning Assistance Network (SPAN). SPAN provided leadership and assistance to state planning groups in order to support and stimulate legal services planning efforts around the country. In 2006, in recognition of the importance of state-level Access to Justice initiatives, the ABA created a new Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives to support the bench, bar, and legal services leaders engaged in efforts to expand civil justice and increase legal aid funding. Moreover, in a number of jurisdictions, the private bar became increasingly more involved in delivering basic legal services, as well as in undertaking those cases and activities that LSC recipients are prohibited from handling.

Beginning in 1998, under the leadership of LSC President John McKay and Vice President Randi Youells, LSC intensified its effort to promote state planning by requiring its grantees to submit detailed state plans and to engage in numerous follow-up activities. LSC’s efforts to promote mergers and reconfigurations increased in scope and intensity. Beginning in 1998 and continuing through 2005, LSC made funding decisions based in large measure on the results of the state planning process that has gone on in each state, although in some instances, LSC rejected the proposals that emerged from the state planning process, substituting its own configuration decisions. As a result of reconfigurations, the number of LSC grantees has been reduced substantially, and fewer programs with proportionately larger LSC grants are each responsible for serving more poor people in a larger geographic area. In 2018, LSC funded 133 grantees across the country, down from more than 325 in 1995.

The state planning initiative has fundamentally changed how civil legal assistance disorganized in this country. Instead of a diverse group of separate, locally controlled, and fully independent LSC-funded programs, loosely linked by a network of state and national support centers, efforts were made in each state to develop a unified state justice system that includes LSC and non-LSC providers, law schools, pro bono programs, other human services providers, and key elements of the private bar and the state judicial system, working in close collaboration to provide a full range of legal services throughout the state. Instead of a philosophy of local control, programs were urged to think in terms of collective responsibility for the delivery of legal services in each state. The focus was no longer on what an individual program could do to serve the clients within its service area but on what a state justice community could do to provide equal access to justice to all of the eligible clients across the entire state. These efforts were more successful in some states than in others, but the legal services community as a whole has changed its focus from local programs to service to all of the clients within a state.

Related oral histories

Battle, LaVeeda — Interview by Alan Houseman, 2016 May 12 LSC
LSC board member.

Bergmark, Martha — Interview by Alan Houseman, 2015 May 15 LSC
Vice-President and President of LSC. Vice-President of NLADA.

Brooks, Terry — Interview by Alan Houseman, 2016 Nov 09
Staff director of the legal services division of ABA. Key player during the period for the ABA, which played a key role in preserving LSC.

Clark, Julie — Interview by Don Saunders, 2002 Oct 02
Director of govt relations at NLADA. Head lobbyist for NLADA starting in 1981 and through this period.

Dana, Howard — Interview by Don Saunders, 2002 Aug 06
Key member of LSC board.

Groudine, Bev – Interview by Alan Houseman, 2018 May 10 ABA

Houseman, Alan — Interview by Linda Perle, 2018 Jan 22 LA/LSC
General Counsel for LSC legal aid programs. Lobbyist to preserve LSC.

Lyons, Clinton “Clint” — Interview by Victor Geminiani, 1991 Jul 23 LSC
President of NLADA.

McCalpin, Bill — Interview by Linda Perle, 2002 Aug 09
Board member of LSC then board member of NLADA.

Perle, Linda – Interview by Alan Houseman, 2018 Jan. 22
Lawyer for LSC legal aid programs.

Singsen III, Antoine G. — Interview by Victor Geminiani, 1991 Nov 01

Smegal, Thomas — Interview by Linda Perle, 2002 Sep
Key LSC board member.

Tull, John — Interview by Alan Houseman, 2016 Nov 10

Whitehurst, William — Interview by Alan Houseman, 2015 May 07
Chair of ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID).