Battle, LaVeeda 2016

Last modified: 2021-01-12 09:14
Storyteller: Battle, LaVeeda
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2016-05-12
Length: 0:46:19

Topics: American Bar Association (ABA), LSC: General, and LSC: Restrictions
Geo, US: AL
Lists: Reggies
Medium: Video
Collection:

NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.109
Georgetown status: Video upon request
Georgetown notes: summary, bio note, keywords
Link to NEJL page: http://aspace.ll.georgetown.edu/public/repositories/2/archival_objects/307
NEJL AV link:

Video status:
Video notes:

Transcript link: Transcript
Transcript status:
Transcript notes:

Consortium status: Gtn info copied
Consortium notes:

Excerpt:

Oral history interview with leading African American attorney in Alabama who chaired the board of Legal Services of Alabama, and chaired a key committee of the LSC board at a crucial time in its history.



Bibliographic citation: Oral history interview with La Veeda Morgan Battle, conducted by Alan Houseman on May 12, 2016 at the Palmer House Hotel, Chicago as part of the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference.

Abstract:

Description

Bio notes
LaVeeda Morgan Battle, Battle Law Firm: https://battlelawfirm.com/about-us/
Feature article with bio: https://attorneyatlawmagazine.com/laveeda-battle

Full text of transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with
LaVeeda Morgan Battle
Conducted by Alan Houseman
May 12, 2016

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history of LaVeeda Morgan Battle. She is a private practitioner in Birmingham, Alabama. She has also been very involved with the American Bar Association and Legal Services Corporation. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library. It is Thursday, May 12, 2016 at the Palmer House in Chicago, Illinois.

Alan Houseman:
LaVeeda, let’s start with an overview of your life. Where you were born, where you went to college, law school, your practice, what positions you held after law school, just a brief overview. Then we’re going to come back and talk in my depth about a couple of things.

LaVeeda Battle:
Sure. Well, interestingly enough I was born right here in Chicago at the University of Chicago, and lived with my family on the South Side of Chicago initially. My parents, when I was very young, moved to Gary, Indiana, which is about 30 minutes down the road. I grew up in Gary, Indiana and attended elementary school there. My senior year in high school, my mother decided to go back and get a second master’s degree at Indiana University. I attended and graduated from the University High School in Bloomington, Indiana.

LaVeeda Battle:
After that, I attended Howard University in Washington, DC. I majored in political science. I did an internship on Capitol Hill. I decided at age 15, I believe, that I wanted to be a lawyer because I heard Martin Luther King come to Chicago and speak about our justice system and how important it was. So from that day to this, I’ve been captivated by how important it is to be involved in the justice system and what it means to our communities here in America.

LaVeeda Battle:
After Howard, I decided to go to the University of California, Davis for law school mainly because the building where the law school is located was named after Martin Luther King. As I was going through all the catalogs and trying to decide on a school, I see King Hall, and I say, “That’s it.” I decided to go to law school at the University of California, Davis, not knowing that that very same year Bakke had applied to get into the medical school and was declined. For the three years that I was in law school in California, we were going through the litigation of that particular case. The decision was rendered before I finished law school. That kind of carved out what the standards would be for affirmative action in higher education. At that time we thought it was going to be the death of affirmative action. Later the decision became the structure for affirmative action in higher education for a number of years.

LaVeeda Battle:
While I was at the University of California, Davis, I did two internships. One in the prison system, and one at a legal services office. After working in that legal services office, I was kind of captivated by how much it meant to the clients to have the kind of help that we were able to render. In California you have the opportunity as a student to actually practice in courts and to do administrative work. So I actually tried some cases and did some administrative work in California with the legal services program out there. At the end of my law school, I was selected as a Reggie [ed. note: Reginald Heber Smith fellow]. I started out as a Reggie in the program in South Bend. Shortly thereafter I worked with the program in Birmingham, Alabama with Birmingham Area Legal Services. So that’s kind of an overview of my background.

Alan Houseman:
And then, finish it so … so after Birmingham …

LaVeeda Battle:
I got to Birmingham and I worked in one of the satellite offices right outside Birmingham in Bessemer, Alabama. It was a small office with about three lawyers. I was first a staff attorney. But in those days it was a revolving door. So after being there for a short period of time I became the managing attorney in that office. I managed a staff of about three lawyers and paralegal and secretaries. We provided legal assistance to people in the Bessemer Cutoff in Birmingham in Jefferson County.

LaVeeda Battle:
I worked with Birmingham Area Legal Services for about two and a half years. I kept a commitment and connection with legal services virtually my entire career. Soon after, I left there and became an administrative judge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. My jurisdiction was Alabama, Mississippi, and the panhandle of Florida, so I would conduct hearings on the federal sector side at the federal installations throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and that panhandle. I did that for a little bit over two years.

LaVeeda Battle:
During the time that, I believe I have this right, during the time that I was a judge, I was selected to be on the board of the national Legal Services Corporation. There was, at that time, a program in Birmingham. Montgomery had a statewide program. There was also a program in Huntsville and in Montgomery, so there were four programs in the state that operated all the way up through my tenure being on the national board.

Alan Houseman:
Which we’ll get to.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yes, that’s right. That’s right. I stayed in contact with the program even though my career continued. After serving as an administrative judge, I ended up with the federal government, going to the Attorney General’s office for a very brief period of time. I think it was just a few months. We started living in Montgomery, Alabama. I then landed at the Public Service Commission and ended up actually heading a staff that put on utility regulatory cases, and being a consumer advocate.

LaVeeda Battle:
What I really looked to do at that point was to try to keep rates down as far as possible for consumers, knowing that the impact would hit those that were clients of legal services the hardest. During that time my title ended up as Director and General Counsel of the Public Staff for the Utility Consumer Protection agency.

LaVeeda Battle:
During the time that I served as the director of that staff, AT&T had filed its divestiture case in Alabama, and across the country, divesting itself of all the local operating companies. We were the advocates on the side of consumers against the telephone company. They had a bevy of lawyers that came to try the case. They wanted a $15 increase in the local service. After we did an analysis of their case, we decided they needed to give $30 million back to the consumers in this state, and so the fight was on.

LaVeeda Battle:
We tried that case over a six to eight month period. When we finished it, they gave $30 million back to the consumers in the state, and the rates went up a dollar and 50 cents. During the same time that we tried that case, I also did telephone, electric, and gas cases, and we were in negotiations with some of the other smaller telephone companies. There was this particular lawyer in Birmingham who saw my staff as the death knell of all the telephone companies in the state, so he brought a case charging that we were unconstitutionally constituted. The case was decided by the Alabama Supreme Court that we were. My staff was dismantled and I went into private practice in Montgomery initially and practiced there for a little bit over two years, and ultimately joined a law firm in Birmingham that I practiced with for about 16 years.

LaVeeda Battle:
The interesting thing about coming from California and having grown up in Chicago and then in the Gary area and gone to school in Washington, D.C., was that when I landed in Alabama, I learned that there were no blacks and whites that practiced law together virtually in the entire state There were no real opportunities in 1978 when I got to Alabama for an African American woman to practice anywhere but in government because there were no African Americans at any of the law firms that were, I wouldn’t say predominantly white, that were white, and predominantly male at the time across the state.

LaVeeda Battle:
When I left my practice in Montgomery, there were a couple of lawyers that had actually been doing work before the Public Service Commission that invited me join their firm in Birmingham. At the time I integrated that firm as a partner coming in, not as an associate, but actually as a partner. Then the doors starting opening up. I’m not saying I was the cause of it. But when that firm did not collapse because I was part of it, then the doors began to open up significantly in a lot of other firms. There may have been at least one or two other folks that had already joined some of the other firms in town, but coming in as a partner was new I think, particularly for an African American female. I stayed with that firm for about 16 years. I left that firm about 11 years ago and opened up my own shop. I’ve been practicing on my own for the last 11 years.

Alan Houseman:
Before we get to the ABA and Legal Services Corporation, describe a little bit about your current practice.

LaVeeda Battle:
Well, early on in my career I was on the side of actually being a lawyer for the public, so my clients have been principally public. I do have some private clients as well, because when I was with the law firm, I did a lot of employment work. When I pulled out on my own, I have some car dealerships, a Budweiser distributorship that I represent, but I also represent a parking authority, and do downtown development contracts now, do all of their work. I do special projects for the City of Birmingham and I have special projects that I’ve done for Mobile County Commission. I’ve been counsel to the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee for the last 16 years, so when the legislature is in session, I’m down in Montgomery, and I do work with them. I kind of pulled out and continued to do just some employment work, but mostly a lot of public work.

LaVeeda Battle:
I’ve also been retained by the governor and I did work with a larger firm to implement the $3 billion that came to the state as stimulus, right when President Obama came in and had to do something to secure all the budgets across the country because everything was in a dismal spiral down because of the economy. I worked with the governor on that and Alabama had been sued because it had not complied with the Help America Vote Act. I assisted the governor in making sure that we were in compliance before the court had to order some things to happen.

LaVeeda Battle:
So, I’ve done work for the state. I’ve done work with the Senate. I’ve done work for all three branches of government, and also I have some governmental entities that I do work for.

Alan Houseman:
Why did you go into legal aid after law school and what people or factors influenced that?

LaVeeda Battle:
You know what’s really interesting about that, I remember sitting, it was Yolo County in California, sitting at a table with some other law students. On the front of Time Magazine was a picture of George Wallace running again for the governor of Alabama. The article was about the fact that he had significant African American support. Here we were at California. I had never been in Alabama and at that point had no idea that I would ever land in Alabama. We were talking about how could that possibly happen? After what George Wallace had done, how could people support him? I was the only African American sitting at the table. So I’m thinking well somebody’s got to advocate for these poor folks in Alabama who staked out a position to support the governor, so I said, “Whoever’s running against him must be absolutely awful and that’s why they’re supporting Wallace.” Interestingly enough when I got to Alabama I worked for both of them.

LaVeeda Battle:
When I worked for the public staff, I was sub-cabinet to Governor Wallace who was really an advocate for consumers, interestingly enough. His opposition was then the mayor of the City of Montgomery. I ended up representing the police department in Montgomery for a period of time, so politics can be very, very strange. That’s one thing.

LaVeeda Battle:
But as I did the work with legal services I was really inspired that that work was the core reason for us having a justice system. Again it harkens back to what I heard when Martin Luther King talked about how our justice system and the legal system which undergirded the entire civil rights movement was key to changing the laws to make them more just. Knowing that, in the communities that I was interested in, legal services was doing the work that really made a difference is part of why I decided to do that work.
Alan Houseman:
You’ve been very involved in the American Bar Association. Tell us a little bit about the positions you’ve held and the work you’ve done in the American Bar Association.

LaVeeda Battle:
I started my work in the Clinton Administration with the Legal Services Corporation. At that point the American Bar Association was very much also involved and did backgrounds on people who were being considered for confirmation by the US Senate for positions in the Clinton Administration. I got invited to a couple of meetings and met some of the people that were involved in the American Bar Association and really saw an opportunity for greater involvement in the profession with Bar Association.

LaVeeda Battle:
A lot of my involvement was with the Council on Race and Ethnic Justice. I had come from a city and a state where there was no diversity in the practice of law in the very place where, because of what happened in Birmingham, the rest of the country had moved forward and there was diversity in a lot of places. I recognized that there was still a need for more diversity in our profession and law firms, and in a lot of places where people just didn’t expect that if you were African American for example that you would have the skills and abilities to be able to do as I did, consumer utility work, or to do work in a lot of different areas.

LaVeeda Battle:
What I found when I started practicing was that the practice of law was very segregated. People expected that you would do civil rights which is very good work, but they didn’t want you to do the high end personal injury cases. They didn’t open the door for you to be able to do any of the corporate work. By working with the Council on Race and Ethnic Justice, and some of the entities that were created to address the issue of diversity, I felt that that work would help us to have a greater impact on getting the profession itself — the profession that was responsible for opening the door for more access in education and employment for people of color across the nation — for that profession itself to begin to self examine itself about and around issues of diversity as well.

LaVeeda Battle:
Working with the Council, I think I chaired several national conferences. One was in California and another in Baltimore addressing issues of the need for diversity in our justice system. Those conferences were very well attended, and brought together people from all aspects of our system of justice. I remember having panels with the Supreme Court Justices at the very time that access to justice was developing. So judges were beginning to see their role as beyond just sitting and making decisions about cases, but also being involved in shaping what the justice system looked like. My being involved in some of the dialogue around how that could happen I think made a significant difference.

Alan Houseman:
But you’ve done some other things in the ABA.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yes. I also served on the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. Interestingly enough, I ended up serving on that committee at the time that the background investigation was done on our now-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, so I did the background in the 11th Circuit for the Chief Justice. That work was quite time-intensive.

LaVeeda Battle:
When I was asked to take on that responsibility, I’d already served on the Legal Services Corporation board. I was doing work in the United Methodist Church at the same time. I’m used to handling a lot of different things at the same time. But when I took that responsibility on it really did require a significant amount of time because one of the things that that responsibility requires is a real in-depth peer review of judges and lawyers and people who’ve actually been involved in practice with people who are being considered for the bench. It was an opportunity to really get a comprehensive prismic view of that person’s temperament based on how opposing counsel see them in cases, and based upon how the judges see them present cases, and based upon how people in the community see the work that they’ve been able to do during their career. I found the opportunity for that kind of broad peer review was an exceptional part of the process of how judges are screened for the bench.

Alan Houseman:
I think you’re a member of the ABA House of Delegates.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yes, I’m in the ABA House of Delegates for Alabama representing the Birmingham Bar Association. I’ve been doing that for about three or four years, so that’s another aspect. I chaired the Council at one point in time and then I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, and now I’ve been in the House of Delegates for about three or four years.

Alan Houseman:
Before I get to LSC, which you’re going to spend most of the time on, you’ve done a lot of work for the United Methodist Church.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yes.

Alan Houseman:
So talk a little bit about that.

LaVeeda Battle:
Interestingly enough, I think all of this started– I mean my ability to be involved in national issues — with a call that I got when I was about 15 or 16 years old to serve on the national organization in the United Methodist Church called United Methodist Youth Fellowship. What I didn’t know then, but I’ve been able to put in context now, is that when I got that call it was right at a certain point in time. In the United Methodist Church there’s a little history around segregation. If you were African American anywhere in the nation, you were in what you called the Central jurisdiction. For the rest of the country they developed a jurisdictional system that was geographic, so you had a Western jurisdiction, you had a Southeastern jurisdiction. But if you were African American, even if you lived in Indiana, you were still in the Central jurisdiction. They had separate bishops that were just for this segregated part of the United Methodist Church.

LaVeeda Battle:
Just prior to it becoming the United Methodist Church, there was a big discussion at what we call General Conference — it’s a conference that’s held every four years to make the laws in the United Methodist Church — to desegregate the church. It was just a shame that we were running these two separate entities at a point in time that the rest of the nation had already dealt with the issue in 1954 about segregated education.

LaVeeda Battle:
So I was asked to serve on the Methodist Youth Fellowship, and from there asked to serve on what was called the Board of Missions. So I started being involved in national issues at about 15 or 16 years old. I served on the Board of Missions for about eight years all the way through the years that I was in college and in law school. The United Methodist Church actually provided a scholarship that paid for my law school education during that time.

LaVeeda Battle:
But I served on that board and on some of the significant committees for the Board of Missions. I served on a committee that wrote the section for how ministers are to be disciplined. We came up with something that we call Fair Process. That fair process enabled the bishops to be able to make sure that there was what we would normally call in the secular world due process in examining issues as they come up or complaints against ministers. So, it kind of applied some of the things that I believed were part of a good justice system in the secular world to how we have constructed the system that works now for the United Methodist Church.

Alan Houseman:
And finally, we get to the Legal Services Corporation. So, you were appointed by President Clinton.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yes.
Alan Houseman:
Do you have any knowledge of how you got that appointment?

LaVeeda Battle:
I got a call from Don Sanders is what I recall. I do know that I had done some work when I first started practicing with Elaine Jones and that-

Alan Houseman:
Explain who Elaine Jones is.

LaVeeda Battle:
Elaine Jones was the executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She had been doing work in Alabama — briefs, long term cases — and I had actually worked with someone who became a federal judge, Judge U. W. Clemon in his practice for a very short period of time. I worked with Elaine on that. She knew that right after I stopped doing that very short term work. So she was the one who made the recommendation as far as I know for that position.

lan Houseman:
So, you came on the board, confirmed by the Senate. Why don’t you talk about your first set of work, which is a lot of your work on the board and then we’ll go into some other things.

LaVeeda Battle:
Well, I was just blown away by the firepower in the room, quite honestly, when I first had the opportunity to meet all the other members of the board because we had some remarkable people that served in the Clinton Administration on that board. I recall early on that our chair, Doug Eakeley, asked me to chair what was called the Ops and Regs Committee. That was the Operations and Regulations Committee. At the time I wasn’t really sure what ops and regs was, or what that responsibility might entail. The Operations and Regulations Committee had the task of basically implementing the notice and comment requirements under the federal guidelines and laws for any of the regulations that would be put in place to implement any congressional mandates for legal services.

LaVeeda Battle:
Early on we had a honeymoon of two years where we were asking for enormous amounts of money to bring legal services up to where it would be if you were to take the dollars at the onset and apply them to 1992 or 1993. People wondered what was going on, and I remember the feedback being, “What were they smoking over there when they were asking for these enormous amounts of money,” but at any rate we got some of the highest appropriations at that time during the first two years.

LaVeeda Battle:
Then at the end of the first two years, as seems to be the tradition, there was a sweep in the congress. We had a Democratic president, and Republican Congress. We began to have to really fight for the continued existence of Legal Services. I remember the two of us working on the issue of authorization under that umbrella of Ops and Regs to see initially, because the Legal Services Act had not been authorized, if we could get some real traction for having that happen. Again, within 24 months of beginning that process, we began to have to really work hard to just maintain the program and ensure that it didn’t get completely unfunded, because if there was no appropriation, without having authorization, we would just cease to exist.
Alan Houseman:
Then, in 1996 the Congress added a whole set of restrictions and you had to oversee the corporation’s efforts to implement those restrictions.

LaVeeda Battle:
That’s right. That was a very, very dark time, I think, for Legal Services because the restrictions really were designed to curb the full toolkit that lawyers generally had to represent clients. They were designed to keep and to really, in a large way, segregate for families who lived in poverty what was available to them advocacy from what was available to people who had wealth and money. There are a lot of things that people who have wealth and money could do if they had a legal issue. But once those restrictions were put in place, people who lived in poverty, or low income families, were just denied access to advocacy. If there was a law that was unjust and you needed to have someone advocate for a change in the law to make it just, that advocacy was cut out with one of those restrictions.

LaVeeda Battle:
There were partnerships and collaborations that had been developed between hospitals and legal services entities to assure that people who qualified for federal assistance through Medicare or Medicaid could then appeal any kind of denials if there was some misunderstandings in their application or some other issues that were not fully vetted that would have qualified them so that they could get medical help. There were hospitals willing to pay legal services organizations to assist them with that. Those contracts were dissolved. There were just a lot of restrictions put in place that drew difficult lines for the full access to representation that our clients desperately needed. We knew that, if we did not implement the appropriate regulations to put those mandates in place, the funding could be yanked at any point in time. We did not, absent being responsive to those restrictions, have the clout to be able to override those mandates.

LaVeeda Battle:
We went through a very, very careful process where the Center for Law and Social Policy and NLADA and other representation that came from the field and from clients and from the public, was carefully considered along with what the mandates were from Congress. As I recall we would have a meeting of Ops and Regs every month two weeks before we would have the board meeting, and we would implement a set of regulations at the end of that two week period.

LaVeeda Battle:
I was, in particular, in Washington, DC every other week for the Ops and Regs Committee meeting and then the board meeting, and that went on for quite some time. There were sometimes that there were disagreements between NLADA and CLASP and our staff, as our staff would look at these issues and make an assessment as to how we needed to implement it. The board would have to make a judgment call as to what was appropriate. We made it through the whole process and it was a very, very detailed process. We had an excellent committee of members that participated in that process. You’re going to have to help me pull up the names.

Alan Houseman:
Well, Bill Mc-

LaVeeda Battle:
Bill McCalpin, that’s right.

Alan Houseman:
He’s come up in other oral histories as you can imagine.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yes, Bill McCalpin would make sure we had the commas in the right places and the periods, and that the wording was completely precise and clear, which was really important because people were going to be relying on how we had put together that interpretation to make sure that they were in compliance with what the law required.

LaVeeda Battle:
So we would meet, and we would make those recommendations then to the full board at its meeting two weeks later. We did that for, it felt like, several years over the period of time that we were working on trying to maintain the funding. Each year, we were beset with the prospect that there might be more restrictions. If, at that time the leadership in the leading party in the Congress came up with more restrictions, we’d have to deal with what those might be as well.

Alan Houseman:
While you were on the board, the president that you had hired, Alex, left. Then there was a new search. Talk a little bit about that. What do you remember? I don’t know-

LaVeeda Battle:
Martha Bergmark served, I think, as an interim president.
Alan Houseman:
That’s correct.

LaVeeda Battle:
She did, I thought, an exceptional job of providing a vision for the organization in that interim. Then there was a search, at that time, for a new president. I think that, because of the challenges that we were facing with the Congress, there was some thought given by some of the members of the board that we needed to find someone that would be acceptable to what we were getting from those members of the leadership in Congress. I think it was a very difficult process and we had some different views about how that ought to go. But a decision was made by the board to select John McKay as the president.

Alan Houseman:
And just for the record, who was John McKay?

LaVeeda Battle:
John McKay was a lawyer who was from, I believe, Seattle, Washington who had been in practice out there and was recommended by the legal services program director out in Seattle who was very well respected as well. He came and interviewed for the position. I think Martha was the other person. I personally supported Martha, I think as president at that time. But nonetheless, that was the decision made by the board.

Alan Houseman:
Were there any other roles you played on the board those years you were on it?

LaVeeda Battle:
I was vice chair of the board. I was on the Presidential Search Committee. I also was chair of the Personnel Committee at one point, so I’ve worn a lot of different hats during the time that I was on the board.

Alan Houseman:
Since you’ve been on the board, and some of this you’ve talked about already, but you’ve kept your finger in some of the legal aid issues.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yes.

Alan Houseman:
I don’t know if you want to talk about that at all. I mean, you’re here at the Equal Justice Conference, and there’s a big civil legal aid gap.

LaVeeda Battle:
Yeah. I served on the board for 10 years because it was two years into the Bush Administration before we were ever replaced. When I completed that service, I came back to Birmingham and served first on the Volunteer Lawyers Program board in Birmingham. At that time it was a very small group. It had been run by a person who had worked for legal services and the program really had not got any real traction in the Birmingham Bar at the time. We decided to redo the bylaws and expand the board. The board, it was almost like when I left 10 years before. When I came back the same people were still on the board that had been on for 10 years. They were all beleaguered. They were committed but beleaguered. It just had not grown. I chaired a committee for the bar to dissolve the committee that was the Volunteer Lawyers Committee, but with no responsibility because there was this separate entity.

LaVeeda Battle:
The separate entity itself didn’t have a connection to the bar, so we expanded the board significantly. I remember we had a president of the bar, we had conversations around changing the culture of the Birmingham Bar. The culture really was that people were involved in all kinds of pro bono work, but they were helping doctors. They were going out raising money for all kinds of other organizations, but not using their skills as lawyers to help the community beyond their practices. That program underwent some significant changes. But now I think under the new director that we have, they just won the Harrison Tweed award within the last year because of the new direction that it’s taken.

Alan Houseman:
The Harrison Tweed award is …

LaVeeda Battle:
The Harrison Tweed award is an award that is given for significant achievements in the area of pro bono representation by lawyers in a pro bono program.
Alan Houseman:
Who gives the award?

LaVeeda Battle:
American Bar Association. SCLAID is the entity that’s responsible.
Alan Houseman:
Right.

LaVeeda Battle:
But to go from four or five people in a very small group to the entire bar really being engaged and now having a half million dollar budget when they had maybe a $50,000 budget when we first got started is really significant. I don’t take the credit for all of that, but I do take the credit for being part of how that happened, which I thought was significant.

LaVeeda Battle:
After I was no longer on the national LSC board, finally there was this merger that took place in Alabama. I was on the board of Birmingham Legal Aid, at that time was called Birmingham Area Legal Services. We merged all of the programs into one and I’ve been on that board virtually ever since. I now chair that board. I’m the president of the board for what’s now called Legal Services of Alabama. That’s why I’m here at this conference.

Alan Houseman:
What other volunteer boards have you been on?

LaVeeda Battle:
Well, someone by the name of Alan Houseman called soon after I finished my tenure on the LSC board and asked me to serve on the board of the Center for Law and Social Policy. I’ve been honored to be a member of the board of trustees of the Center for Law and Social Policy ever since the end of my term on the Legal Services Corporation board. The Center for Law and Social Policy does some significant work particularly on Capitol Hill and with all of the state entities that receive funds in the area of assisting people who live in poverty. They do some really, really important work in keeping that safety net in place for people across the country who need it.

Alan Houseman:
Given your background, both as a private practitioner, as active on key boards locally and statewide, and with programs and volunteer lawyers, and obviously your critical role in the Legal Services Corporation, and even your role when you were working in legal services… taking all of this into account, what is your vision for the future of civil legal aid?

LaVeeda Battle:
Well one of the things I’m looking to do, and I’ve been talking with people here about, for Alabama in particular, is having us come together more collaboratively to kind of push the envelope beyond looking what it is that we do as the provision of legal services to how can we partner with communities. If you really talk to people who are living in poverty in this country, their issues are economic. What they see is, “I need a job for my family and I need to be able to have decent housing and I need good education for my children.” Those are the critical issues. Rather than looking just at what we can do to address the legal issues, if we can begin to collaborate across a number of different areas — and I know that CLASP is beginning to look at collaboration very seriously as well — so that we are all working more closely together so strategically how we can have an impact on raising people up out of poverty, and giving them an opportunity to be able to move from where they are to where they want to be. I think that’s going to be key.

LaVeeda Battle:
That means that we’re going to have to learn a new language. I think so often as lawyers we speak our own language. Social workers speak their own language. People who are delivering services in the medical field speak their own language. We’re going to have to kind of break through those barriers of language to be able to hear each other and speak to each other and work together because we have just seen in our country the number of people living in poverty grow exponentially. We really have more to do and the requirement that we do it as lawyers without compensation means that we’re going to have to make sure that as we are utilizing skills and abilities of folks, that we’re doing it in the most strategic way.

LaVeeda Battle:
My vision is that we will not just talk to other lawyers, but that we’ll start to talk to lots of other people and get more involved in looking more holistically in what we can do to address issues of poverty in our country. It is going to take that kind of collaboration and education for people from a lot of different areas to begin to see the commitment to this as a broader commitment, enough that it’ll start to have an impact on the political process and the economic process in our country.

Alan Houseman:
Finally, are there any other things you want to add? Any other reflections that you want to make? Any other areas that we should have discussed that we didn’t that you’d like to make sure we cover in this oral history?

LaVeeda Battle:
Well, I think we’ve covered a lot. I know that having had the opportunity to be involved in this work has really enriched my life, and my career. It’s like being in two worlds, because I practice in areas that don’t necessarily have … well I would say one thing, doing the employment work helped people to stay employed. Even though I was doing defense work, there were many instances when there were folks that clients wanted to fire that I’d say, “No, give them a second chance,” and they’d go, “Ah, I don’t want to,” but they would. That makes a difference.

LaVeeda Battle:
I think it has enriched my life, and I did a CLE once for young lawyers in which, people look and say, “How in the world did you do this? How did you do all of this?” I really just talk to them about how to organize your time in your life and how it is doable, that you can. So often young lawyers when they’re working in a big firm they think, oh my God, I don’t have time. I can’t do pro bono work. I don’t have enough time just to bill the hours that I’m being required to bill.

LaVeeda Battle:
Well, as part of the bailiwick of different things that I did during the time that I was working, I was doing the work with legal services, and with the United Methodist Church. (By the way, I chaired the Legal Responsibilities Committee in the United Methodist Church. We helped the church make determinations about which cases it would participate in amicus briefs before the United States Supreme Court.) I was working in a major firm and I was billing out the same number of hours that my peers were that weren’t doing all of this work were billing out during the week, because I learned how to be focused and determined about getting the work done. So I just want to say to people, “It is doable. You can have a private practice and you can do exceedingly well in your private practice and you can be fully engaged in assisting with pro bono activities and legal services activities in your community,” and I’m a representation of how that can be done. Okay.

Alan Houseman:
Thank you.

LaVeeda Battle:
Sure.

Alan Houseman:
This has been wonderful.