This web version of the history of civil legal aid in the US is based on the 65-page paper Securing Equal Justice for All: A Brief History of Civil Legal Assistance in the United States by Alan Houseman & Linda E. Perle (Revised May 2018). That document is based on the previous written work of Justice Earl Johnson, Justice John Dooley, Martha Bergmark, and the authors. The May 2018 version was the fourth revision. It was originally written in 2003, then revised in 2007 and 2013.

This web version uses the text of the 65-page paper as a base, then adds links and additional material, such as oral histories. It is a work in progress. Feedback requested and welcome.

About the publication sponsors and authors

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), which promotes policies to improve the lives of low-income persons, served as counsel to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) and its member programs between 1982 and 2012.

The National Equal Justice Library (NEJL), housed at Georgetown University Law Center’s Law Library, is a repository of archival papers, oral histories, photos, and memorabilia about the history of civil legal aid and indigent criminal defense in the United States. See, The governing entity responsible for the creation, oversight and funding of the National Equal Justice Library is the Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), founded in 1911, is the oldest and largest national nonprofit organization whose resources are exclusively dedicated to advocating for equal access to justice for all Americans and to promoting excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. NLADA has more than 800 civil legal aid and public defender program members that collectively represent thousands of attorneys in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Alan W. Houseman was CLASP’s Executive Director until August of 2013 and is now President of the Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library and a volunteer consultant to NLADA. Prior to CLASP, he was Director of the Research Institute at the Legal Services Corporation and founder and Director of Michigan Legal Services. Mr. Houseman has written widely about civil legal assistance to the poor and has been directly involved in many of the initiatives described in this paper.

Linda E. Perle was Director of Legal Services at CLASP until January of 2012. Ms. Perle had been involved with civil legal assistance since 1975 and worked at CLASP from 1988. She led CLASP’s “general counsel” work for the legal services community since 1996.

Other acknowledgements

The cover photo is by Shutterstock artist Delpixel.

Copyright © 2018 by the Center for Law and Social Policy. All rights reserved.