Carmody, Kelly 2019

Last modified: 2021-01-16 07:19
Storyteller: Carmody, Kelly
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2019-05-09
Length: 0:45:48

Topics: American Bar Association (ABA), Employee compensation, Pro bono, Recruitment and retention, and Support centers
Geo, US: AZ, FL, KY, Rural, and TN
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Worked in numerous tate and national organizations supporting civil legal aid and related issues, including KY, TN, DC, and AZ. Arizona-based consultant who played a key role in improving recruitment and retention of civil legal aid staff through better compensation, etc.



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Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with
Kelly Carmody
Conducted by Alan Houseman
May 9, 2019

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history of Kelly Carmody. She is currently a private consultant in Arizona. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library and the Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library. Let’s begin, Kelly, with an overview of your background, where you grew up, where you went to college, and the jobs you’ve held, and then we’re going to come back and talk about each of those in turn.

Kelly Carmody:
I grew up in South Dakota. I’m a rural girl, grew up in a small town called Armour that was about 900 people. It’s now about 700 and my parents are still there. Went to South Dakota State University and received a bachelor’s in Sociology. Then went to University of Kentucky to get a master’s in social work. It wasn’t until later in my career that I went to law school at Georgetown University and graduated from there. In terms of my overview of my career, I have had a lot of different positions in legal aid, primarily in state and national support of legal aid, not the direct provision of legal aid. I have been doing that as a consultant for about 15 years.

Alan Houseman:
What factors led you to go into legal aid work?

Kelly Carmody:
I had gotten my degree in sociology. Right after that when I graduated the first job I had was in a group home for people that were being deinstitutionalized from our large institution in South Dakota. As I understand it, we were the second state in the nation that did that. Nebraska was first and South Dakota was second. I went home and I cried every night. I realized that I couldn’t do direct service. I got too personally involved in it. I ended up knowing that I wanted to help people. I went to get my MSW thinking I would do policy or some level that would help. One of my classmates had done a practicum with the Office of Kentucky Legal Services Programs and it sounded exactly what I needed in terms of being able to do policy work to help people, so I fell into legal aid. It was not intentional.

Alan Houseman:
Tell us a little about the Office of Kentucky Legal Services Programs during the 1980s and then what you did.

Kelly Carmody:
At that point, the office was led by Carl Owens, who then later became an advocate in Ohio and did a lot of the changes in Ohio for the better with legal aid. The Kentucky office was doing primarily legislative and administrative advocacy. It was a state support office. We also did the training coordination and coordinated task forces, did all the information clearinghouse things. When I started there, Carl said, “Learn all you can about Medicaid. Nobody here knows anything about Medicaid.” That’s what I did. The National Health Law Program taught me Medicaid over the phone. This was back before the internet. Then my practicum ended and it was the end of 1980. With the federal cuts that were coming, the state started cutting Medicaid.

Kelly Carmody:
I was still a student but they hired me to stay on to fight the Medicaid cuts. That’s how I started doing legislative advocacy there. We fought the cuts. In fact, we won on a lot of it in 1981. Then when I graduated Carl created a job for me. I had to do the training coordination there. I always said that training coordination was my paycheck, but advocacy was my love. I continued to do the policy advocacy, primarily in Medicaid and what was then AFDC, and a lot of the task force coordinations in Kentucky.

Alan Houseman:
After Kentucky, you shifted to the Tennessee Association of Legal Services. Why did you leave Kentucky? Why did you go there? How did it differ if at all from Kentucky and what did you do there?

Kelly Carmody:
Well, the reason I went to Tennessee was that my husband at that time graduated with his masters and we moved actually to Alabama. I wanted to stay in legal services so I commuted up to Nashville to stay in state support. The office was very similar to Kentucky. We were some of the primary policy folks for low income people in Tennessee. I would say how my job differed was I expanded more into family law and education law in addition to continuing to do health law and AFDC. One of the things I didn’t mention was that in Kentucky I was survival coordinator for the LSC Survival Campaign in the 80s. I continued that in Tennessee but I think the effort had another name there. I coordinated all the efforts that were going on to try and keep the funding of the Legal Services Corporation. So it was another I guess great office. It was something else at that time. Stewart Clifton was there. He was my executive director.

Alan Houseman:
Then you moved on to the National Health Law Program, known to the world as NHeLP. What did you do there?

Kelly Carmody:
At that point I had been in legal services I think for 13 years as a primarily a lobbyist. I decided that I needed JD behind my name in order to do certain things and to get the jobs that I wanted in legal services. I knew that I was a lifer in legal services at that point. I only applied to law schools where there was national support because I wanted to work where there was national support, except I didn’t apply in Boston because it was too cold up there for me. But I ended up going to Georgetown because law school was just a means to an end for me. I was much more interested in working for NHeLP which is what I did while I was in law school.

Kelly Carmody:
The timing of it was I went to law school 1991. President Clinton came in. Then Hillary Clinton proposed healthcare reform. I worked at NHeLP on healthcare reform. I was in charge of being the liaison with the disability community and what was being proposed in terms of changes to folks with disability. I also did technical assistance. NHeLP’s Washington office was really about federal policy change and some technical assistance to the field. The Los Angeles office was the main office for litigation and technical assistance. Then Jane Perkins, who is still at NHeLP, was I guess in their North Carolina office. So NHeLP had come full circle for me in that they had taught me Medicaid and now I was working for them.

Alan Houseman:
By the way, you should add things if you want you don’t have to stick totally with my question.

Kelly Carmody:
Okay.

Alan Houseman:
Then you moved to the Arizona Statewide Legal Services Project. So why did you do that? What did it do and what did you do there?

Kelly Carmody:
There were a couple of reasons I did that. I realized after going to national support that I could have more of an impact at the state level. I had done state support for so long and lobbying at the state level versus lobbying at the congressional level. I decided that I wanted to get back to a state level job. Well, what had happened at that point was President Clinton and the Congress had increased funding to the Legal Services Corporation. One of the things they had done was increased the funding to state support so that there was a minimum amount of support money going to every state, maybe $150,000. Something that. Arizona was-

Alan Houseman:
Depending on the state.

Kelly Carmody:
Yeah. Okay. Well I think we were at the floor in Arizona. So they ended up getting a big increase in Arizona. They were hiring a “government analyst” was the title. But it was a lobbyist. They were hiring in Arizona. I had never been to Arizona. But I applied and got the job. That office was similar in some respects to the state support in Kentucky and Tennessee, but was just a lot smaller. But the executive director there, Elvera Anselmo, had been doing some lobbying as well. They did training coordination. When I came in, I was doing the lobbying. I went there in May of ’94. Then the November 1994 elections happened. So, the increased money for state and national support was rescinded. I knew that I was probably going to be laid off. Arizona Statewide Legal Services Project was affiliated another organization, Southern Arizona Legal Aid. It was a unionized program and they were losing so much money. I decided to go back to DC both because I thought it’d be easier to find a job there. Also, and this becomes relevant later in my career as well, I could not afford my loans. I had graduated from Georgetown with $83,000 in debt and I could not afford to pay my loans. I knew that I needed to make a lot more money. I left and went to NLADA.

Alan Houseman:
What did you do in NLADA?

Kelly Carmody:
What I did at NLADA was I don’t even know… staff counsel I guess was the the title. I was in the civil division and I did a few things there because of what had happened at that point. The campaign on the Hill to deal with what was happening with the Legal Services Corporation funding was big. I helped coordinate that work at the state level. I worked with Julie Clark. I worked with you. I worked with Don Saunders and others to try and save the LSC funding. Also, one of the things I did was manage what was called at that point the Advocacy Resource Project, which was identifying other federal funds besides LSC funding and getting that information out to the field. That’s now become a much larger part obviously of NLADA’s and others’ work. But it had just recently started right before I got there.

Kelly Carmody:
The other thing that I think is interesting from a historical perspective that I did was I managed the Hands Net Legal Services Forum which was really the first time that the legal services community was coming together through the internet. There had been this event called Hands Across America that had raised a lot of money. Part of that went to Hands Net. I managed what would almost now be like what’s on the Clearinghouse or what’s on the Shriver Center website in terms of substantive law resources. That was brand new at that point. People had just started using the internet. I mean we’d been using it some, but the using the web is what had not been used before. Those were probably my main things that I did it in NLADA. It was a very exciting time at NLADA not that it isn’t always.

Alan Houseman:
Then you shifted over to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Describe the Center, which is not a legal program, and then talk about some of the things you did there.

Kelly Carmody:
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is always described on NPR as a liberal think tank. They’re known for their tax policy and budget policy work, trying to make that more equitable for low income folks. At that point though, they were really expanding into other policies that affected low income people. I went to them in ’97. In ’96 the welfare reform law had passed and the immigration reform law had passed. It was a time which was known as devolution, which meant that a lot of the decisions about policies that affected low income people were now going to happen at the state level. So much of it had been federal programs and federal prescribed programs that were now happening at the state level. Your organization, the Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP) had always been doing stuff at the state level. But I think the Center and Budget and Policy Priorities decided they needed people that had worked at the state level to come in. Also, probably some through you, they were realizing the benefits of having lawyers be on staff, lawyers that had been lobbyists or other kinds of policy people.

Kelly Carmody:
They hired a number of people that had been in legal services. My boss at that point was Cindy Mann. I had met her because she was with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, which was and still is the state support unit in Massachusetts. They already had David Super who was with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), which was another national support center. After Cindy Mann left the Center, Eileen Sweeney was my supervisor there. She had been with the National Senior Citizens Law Center. They brought all these people in so that we could work on helping the states deal with what was going on. What I did in particular was help the states design as best they could their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs that replaced the AFDC program. We did this in conjunction with CLASP.

Kelly Carmody:
Also, this was really the first time that I worked on immigrant issues. I had to learn all about immigration law and policy in order to help the states design their state-funded food stamps and state-funded cash assistance for immigrants that were no longer eligible. Even though they were here legally, they were no longer eligible for some of those programs. Another thing I did, and this is getting back to Hands Net, I was in charge of the State Documentation Project. It was where we were trying to document every major decision that was happening with Medicaid, food stamps and TANF — putting that out there on the web so that people could see what was happening and trade resources, et cetera. So I was in charge of working with some folks that worked for CLASP and that worked with Center on Budget to put that together and try and get that information out to people. It wasn’t legal services, but because we worked with so many legal services people, I always felt I was still in legal services at that point.

Alan Houseman:
Right. And then you returned to Arizona, which you haven’t left since then as far as I can tell.

Kelly Carmody:
I have not. I don’t plan to either.
Alan Houseman:
So you went to the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education. Describe that. Why did you go back and what did you do there?

Kelly Carmody:
Well, the reason I went back was twofold. One was as you know I was a long, long time “DCer”. It’s a place where people work a lot and I’ve always worked a lot in my career. I was ready to have more of a life and it’s hard to have a life when you’re single in DC because it’s a very spread out Metro. I just wanted to have more of a life and not work all the time. I also had always thought that I would retire to Arizona. Then I realized, what me think I was ever going to be able to retire? I just decided to go back to Arizona. I just waited for the right job.

Kelly Carmody:
Actually, when I started with them, it was the Arizona Bar Foundation. They have transitioned back to that name. They use both names. It is the IOLTA program there. My title was legal services director but I administered the IOLTA funds, both the getting in and the going out. We gave grants out as well. It wasn’t major funding because in the West IOLTA is not as big as it is in the East. But it was major funding for Arizona. I did that and, because I came in with such a background in legal aid, really did some things to try and improve the system. One of the things really led to later things in my career. At that point people were applying for IOLTA grants and they would say, “We’re going to use this for pro bono and this for pro bono, and this is for pro bono.” But they weren’t really doing that. I remember I brought everybody into the room and I said, “Look, we’re either going to start really doing this for pro bono or you’re going to start writing different grants because this is not what you’re doing.” I credit Michele Mirto, who was the pro bono coordinator at Southern Arizona Legal Aid. Now she has her own organization, a pro bono organization in Tucson called Step Up to Justice. I credit her with really teaching me a lot about pro bono. I had been around pro bono all my career, but it hadn’t been a big part of what I had done. I really learned the value of pro bono.

Kelly Carmody:
Fast forward to now and the Legal Services Corporation is letting folks try a lot of different things. Back then, that’s what we started doing in Arizona. We put a lot of money into hiring rural coordinators and seeing how that worked. We worked with the Arizona Supreme Court and started recognizing the top 50 pro bono attorneys in Arizona, et cetera. It’s really where I became a big believer in the development of pro bono. I was proud of that there. Then the other thing that started coming a little full circle is they already had a loan repayment assistance program that provided assistance to civil legal aid attorneys that had loans. I got to administer that and I got to improve it. When I went Georgetown, I came out with the high loans, but I was able to pay my loans because I could increase my salary through going back to DC and having more experience than most people did. But I saw all the people who wanted to be in public interest and just could not do it because they had too high loans.

Kelly Carmody:
While I was there was the year that Bob Hirshon became the president of the American Bar Association. While I was in law school and after I was in law school, I had been in the ear of Terry Brooks, the staff head of ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID). I had been in the ear of Don Saunders at NLADA saying you’ve got to do something about this debt. You’ve got to help people. They can’t go into legal aid anymore. I don’t take credit for Bob having done this at all, but he appointed this commission and I worked with the commission as another staff person. The primary staff person was Dina Merrell. She’s now at the Chicago Bar Foundation. Anyway, we put together resources. That’s continued to be a big part of my career as well — working on loan repayment assistance programs.

Alan Houseman:
Then you transitioned into this private consulting practice that you have, which includes all kinds of things. Pick out some of the kinds of things you did that you think are important and we’ll talk about your work for the Access to Justice Commissions.

Kelly Carmody:
I was with the Arizona Bar Foundation about five years. I decided I wanted to do more and just move on. I just decided I was going to become a consultant because I didn’t want to leave Arizona. As this conversation has shown, I had a lot of jobs up to then and moved a lot of places. I had found my home in Arizona and I wanted to stay there. In order to stay there, I really had to become a consultant if I was going to change jobs. There weren’t a lot of legal aid jobs that I wanted because, like I said, I can’t do direct service. I think one of the things that’s unique about me is that I am a generalist as a consultant. There are a few others like John Tull and Gerry Singsen that have been generalists. Most people are more specialists. A lot of what I do is evaluations and assessments for both funders of legal aid and for legal aid organizations directly. I haven’t counted but I’ve done at least 50 full-scale evaluations.

Kelly Carmody:
One of the paths my career took was that the Florida Bar Foundation became one of my big clients. Pretty shortly after I became a consultant in 2004, 2007, 2008 hits and the bottom dropped out of a lot of funding. But the Florida Bar Foundation had been very wise in what they had done. They had gotten in so much money because they are a big IOLTA state because of the real estate that’s there. They had put away $4 for every dollar they granted. So they had big reserves. They also had amazing leadership in Paul Doyle and Jane Curran. They had a lot of money to do some work to improve the system. I started doing work for them. Then in 2007, Paul said, “I’m very concerned about salaries in legal services. I think they’re just not high enough and we’re losing people because of it. Would you do a study about why we’re losing people, how we can get people, how we can keep them?”

Kelly Carmody:
I did what’s probably the first recruitment and retention study of civil legal aid attorneys and I did it in Florida. I found that, yes, low salaries were one of the main reasons people were leaving. I offered a number of recommendations there. They implemented a lot of recommendations including raising salaries by at least $10,000 for each attorney in legal aid at that time. Then I became one of the “study people” in legal aid. Because of that one I did another recruitment/retention study in California. That did not result in as much in change at that point because it came out in 2010 during the recession. People were getting cut so it did not have the same effect. The good news is that I’m doing another one for them now, 10 years later. We’re hoping that this will have a lot more effect on their ability to raise money to raise salaries.

Kelly Carmody:
I’ve always been known as the person that works on loan repayment assistance programs. I’ve done that in a lot of different states, usually with the IOLTA programs that fund the loan assistance programs. I’ve worked a lot of years with the ABA to compile the resources and keep up with who has loan repayment assistance programs and provide technical assistance to those that do. When public service loan forgiveness was first coming out at the federal level, I worked a lot on the design of that program with Heather Jarvis, who was then at Equal Justice Works, and with with Phil Schrag at Georgetown. I would say my passion has been the compensation of legal aid attorneys.

Kelly Carmody:
The other major study that I’ve done is on pro bono. In Florida, I did a major, very comprehensive study for the Florida Bar Foundation and the Florida Supreme Court on what we can do to improve pro bono. They implemented a lot of the recommendations and have definitely improved pro bono in Florida.
Alan Houseman:
You’ve done some work with the ABA on Access to Justice Commissions. So describe that a bit.

Kelly Carmody:
Most of my work in that regard has been with sharing the resources. Access Justice Commissions involve so many different stakeholders that maybe haven’t been involved in civil legal aid or in the civil justice system. So they aren’t as familiar with the resources. A lot of my work has been compiling and making sure that people know about the resources that are available. I did a study for the Montana Access to Justice Commission on the gaps and barriers to civil legal aid. In fact, it was probably one of the more fun studies that I’ve done. I remember initially going to the commission and saying I’ve never done anything in a state where you have remote counties. I remember going back to them eight or nine months later after I had driven those counties and saying, “Now I know what you mean about remote.” So I worked with their commission and that’s had some really good effects in Montana in terms of improving justice. I’ve worked more with the ABA and to help the commissions.

Alan Houseman:
One of the things you did was take all the commissioner reports for a particular year and pull together the highlights and organize them not by states but by activity.

Kelly Carmody:
So there’d be states that have done assessments of needs, or gaps and barriers. There would be states that… well, on the funding initiatives, most that was compiled by Meredith McBurney for the ABA. Or it could be what have they done in terms of pro bono development or what have they done with self represented litigants. So we could have those resources all on the web so that people would know what they’ve done. Or, if they weren’t on the web, they knew who to contact to get those resources through the Access to Justice resource library, or I forget what it’s called but-

Alan Houseman:
Resource Center.

Kelly Carmody:
Resource Center. Yes.

Alan Houseman:
Before turning to more philosophic questions, is there anything else that you want to talk about in terms of your consulting work that we haven’t talked about?

Kelly Carmody:
When I was looking at my resume and preparing for this, you had listed something about facilitation. One of the things that I do that people look for is facilitation of difficult meetings. I seem to be known for that as well. I don’t know why. So I’ve done a lot of facilitation about retrenchment or restructuring and I do a lot of strategic planning for organizations as well. I facilitate a lot of different meetings and facilitate decisions. I like to get to decisions, I guess.

Alan Houseman:
Given your knowledge, and experience in consulting, and your other work in so many places, where would you like to see the Access to Justice and civil legal aid world go? What’s your sense or maybe your vision of where you’d like to see this system that you’ve been intimately a part of go?

Kelly Carmody:
I’m going to start, I guess with one of my primary things I’ve seen. One of the things I’d like to see is an investment in the staff of legal aid. We haven’t done that enough. There are people like you and me that have been in this business for 40 or 50 years and have no intention of leaving it no matter what. Some of what’s going on now is, because we haven’t kept the salaries up, it’s becoming a much larger problem and people aren’t able to stay, aren’t able to have children or put their children through college or buy homes, et cetera. That is combined with how our society has changed generally in that people don’t stay at jobs as long as they used to. We haven’t dealt with that yet. We need to figure out what it means for the future of civil legal aid. We’re not going to have the historians around we have right now. So many of us that were there in the 70s and the 80s and up through today haven’t dealt with what it means that we won’t have as many of those people with a long term commitment.

Kelly Carmody:
Another issue is there’s definitely improvement on the pro bono front. There will never be — and I hate to say never — but there will never be enough legal aid staff attorneys. So we have to get to a better place on the use of pro bono attorneys. I tend to think that that’s getting better. One of the hard things that happened in the past that really made pro bono such a hard thing to develop was when the Legal Services Corporation change was made in 1982 where 12½% of the Legal Services Corporations field grants had to be spent on private attorney involvement. When that came in, many Executive Directors saw that as a shifting of money from what they wanted to spend it on to what they didn’t think was as valuable. That mindset has continued. As more and more folks that went through that have retired, it has in that sense has been a good thing because some of the younger leaders don’t have that same mindset like, “Oh this is not good. They’re taking our money. Why are we doing pro bono?” I think there’s more of a commitment now. I’m hopeful at least to the value of pro bono, what it takes to support pro bono. We never have quite put in the resources that we should have. We put in the 12½% and forgot it and that was it. If we really would put the support behind it so that we made it easy for private attorneys and other attorneys to do more pro bono, we’d have a lot more of it and have a lot bigger impact. I’d to see us continue down that road.

Kelly Carmody:
One of the areas you had mentioned was self represented litigants. I seem to be doing more in that realm. A lot of times it’s because of the pro bono piece or it’s become obviously just a big piece of everything we do that is so big. On that one, I really want our courts and our bar associations to step up. I think legal services are trying to step up, but its one more thing we have to do. Speaking of Access to Justice Commissions, I really wish that they would take that on and simplify and simplify and simplify our system because people can’t get through it. Legal services is doing their best to put some services around self represented litigants to help them get through court. But it’s just so hard for them right now and we have to make it easier for them.

Kelly Carmody:
Another thing I’d to see is really thinking about what systemic advocacy we are doing. We’re getting better at this, but it’s going to take awhile. Well, it is taking awhile. I think one of your questions had been about full representation. Yeah, I’m all in favor of full representation. But at this point in time, I’d probably go with full representation for victims of domestic violence — those that really fear for their life, particularly in rural areas or places where there are no resources at all. Then I would put it into some public benefits too because, again, that’s life saving in terms of cash assistance or food assistance. But we really need to put those resources into trying to change the policies, the laws, etc. through systemic advocacy. It’s been hard for our community to really wrap their head around how to do that. It’s been hard for the Legal Services Corporation to figure out how do you count systemic advocacy because we’re always counting the number of cases that we close. How do we work on the big cases? They don’t need to be class actions. How do we work on the big cases to make sure that we change the policy so that you’re not continuing to have to litigate against the same landlord all the time? There’s lots of visions that I have for the community, but those are some of the main ones.

Alan Houseman:
I’m not sure whether your resume lists any awards for your work?

Kelly Carmody:
No. [Laughter] I think I’ve received one. As consultants you don’t, that’s not really-

Alan Houseman:
Yeah, you should have received one.

Kelly Carmody:
… what you get.

Alan Houseman:
Are there any other activities you are involved with that you want to tell us about?

Kelly Carmody:
You mean career-wise or?

Alan Houseman:
Career, vocational and outside your career.

Kelly Carmody:
Probably the other big thing that I’m involved with is an organization that we have. Some say it’s the largest book sale in America. I don’t know if it is or not. They’ve been doing it since 1957. We collect used books from everybody in the Valley of the Sun. So you work all year long collecting these books and sorting them and pricing them, et cetera. There’s over a million books, I know for sure. So I do that. Then we have this big book sale that the whole Valley comes to. It’s very cheap so the books will be a a dollar or two, or some of them are more. People come with their change, they come with their dollars. Then we give money. It’s really gratifying. It’s a service to the community for recycling these books and getting affordable books into people’s hands. But also then we give money to two different charities and I’m in it. I don’t do it for the love of books. A lot of people that are in it, they’re former teachers. They’re in it for the love of books. That’s not me. I read enough in my work that I’m not about other books. I do it because it is a charity. Some of the money goes to the Arizona Friends of Foster Care Children. And what we do is give money to foster care children so that they can participate in extracurricular activities and have more of a normal life. So, yeah, that’s probably my main activity outside of my legal services career.

Alan Houseman:
Okay. Thank you.