Carr, Catherine 2016

Last modified: 2021-01-12 09:21
Storyteller: Carr, Catherine C.
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2016-04-26
Length: 0:55:35

Topics: Civil legal aid: General, LSC: Restrictions, and Nonprofit management
Geo, US: PA
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Medium: Video
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NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.098
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/320
NEJL AV link:

Video status:
Video notes:

Transcript link: Transcript
Transcript status:
Transcript notes:

Consortium status: Gtn info copied
Consortium notes:

Excerpt:

As Executive Director of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, she made the organization a national leader. An excellent manager, she played a key role in splitting CLS from a separate organization that remained an LSC grantee.



Bibliographic citation:

Abstract: Interview conducted at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Description

Bio note
https://clsphila.org/about-cls/staff/administrative-team/175
Catherine C. Carr is the Executive Director of Community Legal Services, Inc. Ms. Carr served as a staff attorney at CLS for eleven years before becoming director in 1995, specializing in public benefits case litigation, including access to welfare, Social Security, and Medicaid benefits.

Ms. Carr serves or has served on the board of directors of a number of public interest law firms in Philadelphia, including the Community Justice Project, Women’s Law Project, Homeless Advocacy Project and VIP, Philadelphia’s pro bono project. She has served in leadership positions for a number of bar associations, including in the House of Delegates of the Pa. Bar Association, the Judicial Selection Commission of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and the Legal Services Project of the ABA Section of Litigation. She serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School where she teaches “Public Interest Lawyering”, and where she is a member and past Chair of the Public Service Advisory Board and on the Board of Managers of the Alumni Society.

Ms. Carr is an active leader and frequent speaker in the national legal aid community. She is a Director of the National Legal Aid & Defenders Association; the Vice President of the Board of the Management Information Exchange (MIE), a national organization of legal aid managers; and a member of the Editorial Committee and frequent contributor to the MIE Journal.

Ms. Carr has received a number of awards for her work, including the Bar Association’s Andrew Hamilton Award, the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s inaugural Louis Pollak Award, the NLADA Denison Ray Award, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award, and the University of Oregon School of Law’s “Champion of the Public Interest” Award. She has been named a Legal Intelligencer “Woman of the Year” for 2014.

Ms. Carr received her J.D. cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was an editor of the Law Review. She received her B.A. cum laude from Yale University, where she was the first graduate with a Women’s Studies major. She clerked for the Honorable Norma L. Shapiro of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Full text of transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with Catherine Carr
Conducted by Alan Houseman
April 26, 2016

Alan Houseman:
This is an interview with Catherine Carr, the former Executive Director of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. The interviewer is Alan Houseman of the National Equal Justice Library on Tuesday April 26, 2016 at CLS’s offices. Cathy, I’d like to start by just going through a brief overview of your background, college, law school, clerkship and where you worked. Then we’ll come back and focus in depth about CLS.

Catherine Carr:
I’m the child of an academic family. I’ll start out that way. Grew up in Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill, North Carolina and then Philadelphia, a college town where my father was a professor and one of the first computer scientists building computers. Went to Yale undergraduate and then Penn Law School. I had gone to high school in Philadelphia and came back to Penn where my father was a professor. I got very interested when I was at Yale in women’s issues. I was in the third freshman class of women there, and sort of defined a lot of my undergraduate career as looking at discrimination and the differences in treatment of women, which were pretty obvious on a Yale campus — which was a sympathetic place to women, very sympathetic, I should say that, and was trying to do its best by women — but also certainly accentuated the differences that women faced in the world. It was a time of the work on the Equal Rights Amendment, and the first decent group of women law students at Yale. I learned from them about some of the work that was going on in terms of trying to establish equal rights for women.

Catherine Carr:
That’s what got me interested in going to law school, really the women’s issues. I was the first women studies major at Yale because I designed my own major there. After my Yale graduation, I took a year off where I worked with the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund in New Haven on women’s issues and saw what they were doing. One of the those women, a woman named Anne Hill, was a former legal aid lawyer so that was some of my first education about legal aid. When I arrived at Penn Law School, I was still thinking of myself as doing women’s issues and did work with the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia. But I really was inspired by a class which they called Income Security that Howard Lesnick and Ed Sparer had designed and was mandatory for all first year students at Penn Law School. We didn’t call them one L’s at the time. So I took this course. That, together with an internship I did at Community Legal Services really woke me up to the plight of poor people.

Catherine Carr:
The majority of poor people are women and I think there was and is an obvious connection between the issues of women and poverty. I was brought up in a liberal household that was aware of problems. But for the first time, I really understood the extent of poverty in our country and became very, very interested. It was very distinct from my own quite privileged background. I was an upper-middle class kid and became very compelled to work on those issues. I got to know some people at Community Legal Services. I worked in the Landlord/Tenant unit as a third year student. I went down to a crazy, crazy landlord/tenant eviction court several times a week that would start at 4 PM. I still remember a judge putting a fingers to his ears in the middle of a hearing and just going, “nah, nah, nah, nah” to all of the litigants. It was that crazy in there.

Catherine Carr:
Seeing the reality of the justice system in how it treated the most vulnerable and poorest among us made me decide that that was the kind of work that I wanted to do. So after Penn Law School I was convinced at the last minute to apply for federal court clerkship. It felt in some ways like an elitist track that a lot of people were using to get into law firms, which was not my goal. There were two brand new judges on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Federal Court and I wanted to stay in Philadelphia. One was Lou Pollak, who was a legend of his time, and the other was Norma Shapiro, who was the first woman to join the Eastern District. I applied to the two of them, both wonderful people, and got the job with Norma Shapiro.

Catherine Carr:
I spent a year working with her which was fascinating and compelling. At the same time, for me, I saw how much of the federal court’s work was about commercial disputes, how much of the court’s resources were spent on that kind of work. I found it just fascinating that two tire companies could wrap up the resources of a federal courthouse and the clerks, the judge, the building for months at a time with piles and piles of papers probably for a $200 filing fee. There was an education there but I remained committed to doing legal aid work. Some Community Legal Services people appeared in front of us during that year I was there. Then I applied for jobs both at Community Legal Services and at the Education Law Center. Ironically, we felt that legal aid was in a tight position at that time. It was 1980. I was looking for jobs. In retrospect it was a boom time for legal aid. But there was talk about losing money and if they had to do lay offs at some point. I was convinced by Janet Stotland, a former CLS attorney who became a mentor to me, “Yeah, you’re going to interview right?”

Alan Houseman:
I interviewed her already.

Catherine Carr:
Oh already. Okay. So Janet, who had worked both at Community Legal Services and the Education Law Center, convinced me that I would get better supervision and be better able to develop my talents as a public interest lawyer if I came to the smaller education law center, which I did. We did public education issues, so a lot of special education. It was kind of a boom time and a new special ed law and figuring out how those laws worked. I did some class action work there and a lot of legislative advocacy. It was in many ways a very good start for a public interest career with a lot more time to think about the cases that you work on. But I did not have a lot of individual client contact. I found that I wanted to do that. Now I can say that the contrast was kind of enormous when I eventually ended up at Community Legal Services with the pressures and the numbers of cases. It was a very different kind of life.

Catherine Carr:
The caseload and the need that one sees when you walk into a legal aid office was so compelling that I found it incredibly, in some ways overwhelming, but also just energizing because there was so much that needed to be done for the clients. Not to say that didn’t exist in the education world, but the pace of the type of work was different between the Education Law Center and Community Legal Services. My two years at the Education Law Center were very interesting work. I did some work around expulsions for discipline. Some of the things that I think we all look back on, some people would argue contributed to some of the problems in inner city schools. But I was frustrated in the sense that I didn’t feel like there were handles in the education law world to really get to the crux of how to improve education for the large group of poor kids who were getting lousy education in inner city schools. Instead the focus was on these important but sometimes peripheral issues.

Catherine Carr:
The special ed work was very active and then these disciplinary issues but in terms of really trying to improve education for the bulk of Philadelphia’s minority community, I was frustrated with the lack of ability to tackle that. There was some good litigation going on by the Educational Law Center in New Jersey at that time and it has been continued to be pursued in Pennsylvania in terms of pushes for better educational outcomes. So at the end of two years with the Educational Law Center, the other thing that was going on, I got married. My husband and I decided that, before we had children, before our careers went further, we wanted to take a year and travel. I like to tell especially younger lawyers this. We took a year and went around the world. We taught in China in 1982. We taught English really early on partly through my father’s computer science connections in a university in Shanghai. We traveled through much of Asia and went on a trek in the Himalayas and got robbed in New Delhi and all sorts of exciting adventures Australia. That break was wonderful.

Catherine Carr:
Then when I came back, I applied to Community Legal Services. John Stein was director at the time and there was a slot to do Social Security work because a young attorney was having a baby and was leaving. I got that slot and got to work with just wonderful people — Richard Weishaupt, John Stein. Lou Rulli was my managing attorney. As I said before the amount of need was both stunning and very compelling. CLS had an environment where they wanted you to tackle the work that was out there and figure out how to do it. I found it very difficult at first that someone drops off 80 individual Social Security cases on my desk. At the same time, there was a clear expectation that I was going to be doing some class action work and some systems change work. Making that balance work was the first … well I was going to say it was the first challenge. It was probably the challenge for the rest of my career.

Alan Houseman:
So you became, well let’s … you’ve been supervising attorney.

Catherine Carr:
I eventually became staff attorney then a supervising attorney. I was never a part of management until I became the executive director. CLS is a unionized program. It has two unions, one of support staff and one of attorneys. I like to tell the story that I was on both sides of the table at the same contract negotiation in 1995. When Rouli, my predecessor as Executive Director, decided that he was moving onto Penn Law School. I was very upset. We were all very upset that our great leader was leaving and didn’t know who was going to take over the program. As I said, I was in the union. I was not in management. Gradually, people came to me, and I was sitting in an office about 20 yards from us here. People would drop by my office and say, “You know who could do this, Cathy. It’s you.” Which was kind of news to me. I thought about it and the truth was that I was someone who saw things that I felt like weren’t working well. I had a vision of some changes that could be made. I had thought about the union issues that were difficult and visible and with us all the time. As I thought about it, I decided that I could take it on. It was a really big jump, but that’s the one I made in 1995.

Catherine Carr:
To back up just a little bit, I had done a lot of Social Security and welfare work. When you’re in at least in this legal aid organization, you do everything from advising clients with really brief services to going to administrative hearings with the welfare department or the Social Security office, to filing class actions. There was a lot of class action, especially Social Security work. In the welfare area I did a big case about overpayments which were being collected with inappropriate notice and not due process.

Catherine Carr:
I think the case I probably am most proud of when I think back on it is the Rossetti decision, which was an HIV case. I think the interesting thing about the Rossetti case is that it’s a good example of what CLS does well, the culture CLS has. I had several clients who were coming in and there were more of them across the program, because our program at that point had multiple offices around the city. They were being denied SSI disability benefits even though they were HIV positive on their way to full blown AIDS. The reason they were denied really was that the standards of the Social Security Administration were designed based on the symptomology as presented by homosexual men because the disease at first developed with the gay male population. That was the information that the Social Security had used to design its listings, which are its rules about who gets disability benefits and who doesn’t. That listing worked for the gay male community but as new symptomology was presenting itself for people who were either IV drug users or women with AIDS or HIV, the listing wasn’t up to date and was meaning that people were getting denied who were really quite ill and disabled.

Catherine Carr:
I had a woman we called Mary Doe in the class action papers and Peter Rossetti was a young man in South Philly who had been an IV drug user. Both of them agreed to be named plaintiffs in this class action which took on nationally challenging the way the Social Security disability listings worked. During the pendency of the litigation, Clinton became President. I remember going to a national meeting with a bunch of Social Security litigators who all thought, “Boy, this is going to make things easy and we’re going to settle things and make things go our way.” It was not easy, but we did eventually settle that litigation and get that HIV listing changed in a way that took into account the symptomology for the IV drug users and women. Unfortunately since then, Peter Rossetti died and I lost track of Mary Doe, but I’d be surprised if at this point she’s alive too. It was a different era in terms of what was going on with HIV. That was my litigation and the type of thing I was doing in the public benefits world.

Catherine Carr:
CLS had had its issues and there were lots of deficits, fights with the Legal Services Corporation, union problems. Lou really did a fabulous job moving on. I step in. I will say that it was a better fit for me than I think I ever imagined. It worked out. I was the first female director. That had not been done before. It took me a while and it was extremely hard but I can now say 20 some years later that it worked out well.

Alan Houseman:
CLS in ’96 gave up LSC funds. Talk a little bit about why you did that, what the impact was. What the battles around that were if any.

Catherine Carr:
That was a big moment. One that in some ways has defined the world of the community of legal aid for the last 20 years. I was a new director in June 1995, and there was lots of talk of Congress putting restrictions on the type of work that could be done by legal aid organizations, and also the cuts in the funding. I don’t think any of us quite believed it because it was sort of too bad news Again, I was a staff attorney. I wasn’t in management. I wasn’t worrying too much about money. So in June, I come into this new job. I think this is important in terms of thinking about the role that the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association and CLASP and you, Alan Houseman, played into all of this. I went to my first national executive directors meeting in Kansas City, at which Don Saunders and you and others made it pretty clear to us that these restrictions and funding cuts were something that we ought to start planning for.

Catherine Carr:
CLS is an organization that always has treasured the fact that we do both individual cases and that that leads into systems change work, however we want to label that work and it’s been called different things. But the idea that there would be restrictions put on our organization that would prevent us from doing class actions, prevent us from doing legislative advocacy and other works of that sort was just an anathoma to us. I will say it was pretty clear from the moment we heard about this that we were going to have to do something to work around the restrictions in some fashion, but that this organization couldn’t live with it. I spent much of the time in Kansas City in tears. Since then other directors I know tell me they thought I was never going to succeed as a director because I felt like, my gosh, I was just trying to figure out how to run this place and my gosh, now I’ve got to figure out what to do about these restrictions and what to do about losing a third of the money, which was also anticipated.

Catherine Carr:
So I came back from Kansas City and put together a group of managers that talked about what we could do in response to this. There really was not a moment of hesitation about whether we were going to take federal money that came with these restrictions and would restrict not just a portion of the funds, which we might have been able to live with in accounting fashion, but the organization as a whole from doing very important work. So we worked together with the Philadelphia Bar Association and came up with a plan and there were some really key private attorneys who were very caring and involved in this. They incorporated a new organization and we went through a process where we split staff — extremely painful — and decided who would be laid off by CLS and who would be asked to join the new organization, Philadelphia Legal Assistance. Then, because of the loss of funding (it was about a million dollars that the system lost) some people were going to lose jobs altogether.

Catherine Carr:
The first six months of my Executive Director term were spent planning this between June ’95 and December ’95, when we expected the restrictions and the funding cuts to be effective. We got a new program incorporated. They submitted the LSC application instead of Community Legal Services. At the time we called it PLAC, the Philadelphia Legal Assistance Corporation. Nobody liked the PLAC acronym so they became Philadelphia Legal Assistance. We got a new and separate group to be board of the PLA. It was headed by Bill Klaus, a former President of the American Bar Association, who’d been very supportive of legal aid throughout his career and had been the first board chair of Community Legal Services. Bill felt very strongly that he wanted to be as careful and cautious as we could on making sure we met the congressional requirements and that we were not going to be in trouble for doing anything that was inappropriate under the LSC regulations and the restrictions. So we were very careful.

Catherine Carr:
We were in this building at the time and there were empty floors. So Philadelphia Legal Assistance rented out the new floors and we split the staff. We had separate entryways, separate signage, separate board. All of the things that were required and we were very careful about that. We were probably, we may have been the very first organization that did this split as we called it at the time. Connecticut I guess had a different kind of format and were doing it. But we just jumped on it. I remember the CLS board meeting when we decided that CLS would give up the Legal Services Corporation funding, which was about three million dollars. It was the client board members who spoke out most eloquently about the importance of CLS being able to continue to do the kind of systemic work that it had always done. There was no debate. It was kind of a fait accompli. I mean everybody knew we had to do it. It’s interesting because so many organizations around the country really didn’t feel that way, or took their time. We just were like, “We’re getting this done.”

Catherine Carr:
It was painful. It was painful because we were downsizing. The two organizations were going to end up being smaller than the one had been. And the people, it was a beginning of … well we had sort of thought, hey, continue on and it’ll be fine, and the two organizations will get along fine. There was a sense of some people that they were kind of exiled to the new organization. That they were chosen. That they would have to live with these new more difficult restrictions. They weren’t going to be able to do as broad work. So there began early on and it continued for a number of years some friction, tension, difficulty between the two organizations as much as I think we all tried to see ourselves as sisters and working together. The fact was that we had two very distinct boards of directors, with somewhat different people and different approaches. Bill Klaus was wanting to make sure that we really were careful about the law. We had a pro bono law firm that advised us on how to do the split and how to make sure that we had contracts to the extent where we were having integrated functions, or whatever, subleases or sharing equipment, whatever, that all of that was done with arms length transactions.

Catherine Carr:
It worked very well, but it was also painful and difficult. I think that difficulty continued with us for the next 20 years in a way. I think it was an extreme success. I think we were a model. I think it allowed Philadelphia to continue to have a legal aid program which could file all the class actions it wanted and could collect attorney’s fees, which had been a very important part of our budget as well and was now going to be prohibited, and allowed us to do the kind of advocacy we wanted without the chilling effect which I think was very much present. I was going to say, in the early years. But I think frankly it has continued for 20 years that people worry about the restrictions and when are they going to bump up against them. Sometimes therefore they are not as aggressive or creative as maybe they could be even under the regulations. We avoided all of that and PLA got some very strong people and does very good work. But as a result of the different rules, PLA became very excited about building some family law advocacy out and really did own in a sense more of a focus on the individual work, which makes sense because of their rules.

Catherine Carr:
CLS has continued a sense that it’s very important that we do individual work. This is actually why we set it up the way we did. We did not want to do what was done in some places where you carve off a group of people who will go off and do class actions, who will do legislative advocacy. We could have done it that way. Take the people who you think of as the people who will file the big litigation or whatever or are doing that kind of work and put them into their own organization and let them not live with the restrictions. At CLS the sense very much was that the individual cases, the interaction with individual people walking into your door everyday is extremely important to gather information to inform the systems work, to make you remember what your clientele is like, who it is.

Catherine Carr:
I’ve actually never thought about this until this moment. But I think the fact that I had been at the Education Law Center and seen a small office which was doing systemic impact work without a lot of the client contact made me recognize that there is a difference to having people pouring in your office and seeing the range and criticalness. What’s the right word? Of their need, the legal needs that they have. Having that directly as part of your decision making and your prioritizing of what kind of work you do was very important.

Catherine Carr:
CLS has always remained that way which is we have both the individual work that leads into the systemic work and we value both and we struggle with what that balance looks like. I won’t pretend it’s easy. I think you’re always having to turn away some individuals because of the importance of keeping the systems and the efficiency and effectiveness of systems work in mind. But CLS has kept at that and I think has done it extremely well. Philadelphia Legal Assistance as I said has focused more on the individual work. That has given them the ability to develop some of the technology for accessibility and attention to some of the telephone hotlines, some of the things that CLS paid less attention to. So each organization has had its strengths.

Alan Houseman:
Is Philadelphia Legal Assistance still here in this building?

Catherine Carr:
Philadelphia Legal Assistance moved out of this building probably about ten years ago.

Alan Houseman:
That’s what I thought.

Catherine Carr:
Yeah and moved right across the street sort of, which was very nice. The best was when we were all in one building. Actually I think everybody involved would agree that the most difficult moments of tension between the two organizations have been around physical location. It was one thing to have them here. It was hard to watch them move across the street. Now they’re about 3/4 of a mile or a mile away, downtown in the city. There were differing visions of the two organizations about the importance of being in the same building. There’s now a plan to build an equal justice center in Philadelphia that will bring not just CLS and PLA, but also a bunch of other public interest organizations all into the same big building. If that can happen, that would be wonderful again.

Alan Houseman:
We talked a little bit at the beginning about LSC funding and the split. I’m going to ask it in a different way. What did you try at CLS? And it may have just been a continuation of Lou and others. I’ll be talking to them a little later today but what kind of vision did you have for CLS when you took over after getting through all the struggles of the problems you had to deal with and then the LSC spin off. How would you envision what you were trying to accomplish and how did you try to carry that out?

Catherine Carr:
I would say that my vision was to build upon a very successful organization. However, this was not at all unique to CLS. The legal aid community was very focused on the advocacy work that was out there, the impact work that was out there, the individual need. What we didn’t do very well was some of the administration and management issues, supervision, technology. Computers were starting to come in. Good management practices came in, some of which went to the union. At CLS there’d been a lot of union complaints and I think this was one of the things that led me to my interest in being Executive Director. The union would complain that the building temperatures weren’t right, that there wasn’t toilet paper in the bathrooms — I mean picky things at that level — but also, we don’t have adequate supervision. I have a supervisor, he’s supposed to be my supervisor who’s never there for me. I haven’t had adequate training.

Catherine Carr:
I mean one of the things when Janet Stotland said, “Come to the Education Law Center and don’t go to CLS because as a new lawyer you’re going to get better training.” Hey, I don’t want that to be true at CLS. I want CLS to be a place where a new lawyer gets fabulous training and is well supervised. The financial problems which were here were always the struggle. It was constantly hanging over our head that next year we’re going to have a terrible deficit or we already do have a terrible deficit and we’re trying to figure out whom to lay off. I lived as an attorney in this program with everything from the lack of toilet paper to, am I going to lose my job next year because of our fiscal situation? I came in here and thought, I’m going to try to do a better job around those kinds of issues. The work here is fabulous but the structure and systems around it can be improved.

Catherine Carr:
Alan, this is interesting ’cause I’ve never said this quite out loud like this before. It’s interesting how this comes out. There’s clearly some things that we can fix here, which will make it easier for fabulous advocates to do fabulous advocacy. I think that’s what I managed to do during my 20 years, which was to build supervisory systems, some planning systems, some clearer prioritizing systems, a management team that managed and communicated better than it had before. Technology. There had been about two years of fights over what kind of computers to get on people’s desks in 1995. So this was like the era of we’re just starting to figure out do we have enough money to give everybody a personal computer. There was a group that wanted to buy lots of used computers with $100,000 grant or do we get fewer new computers? Nobody could make a decision. We weren’t spending the $100,000. I came in and I said, “Look, we’re going to buy new computers. We’ll see where it goes. We’ll find more money.”

Catherine Carr:
I think there’d been a certain amount of management by consensus and management by lawyers who were really more interested in advocacy than in management. Straightening that out and saying, we’re going to run this place a little more tightly and we’re going to get everybody a computer, and we’re going to budget for computers and we’re going to figure out how to get this deficit thing under control and we’re going to figure out how to do budgeting that takes us a few years out so there’s not this constant year to year question of are we going to have to lay people off next year? We’re going to build some fiscal stability. We have a fabulous fiscal director who’s been here for 30 some years. He was here before me and I think he and I worked really well together to do frankly more conservative budgeting. We wanted to even things out so that there was a little bit of a cushion and less up and down in terms of size. It’s not easy to do but we did it better.

Catherine Carr:
We built a fundraising operation. When I came in here, there was a part time grant seeking consultant, a fundraising consultant. We now have four people who do grant writing and fundraising. The director was doing it all and I was writing grants at night when I first came in. We built that operation. The language access stuff. That kind of popped up. We needed to have a better system to deal with people who didn’t speak English so we got that going. We built a system whereby we both did more grant taking I guess is the word. We did more grant writing and foundation work. We built our fundraising. There was an existing law firm fundraising project which was important. There were great people working on it but we were able to build that out more partly by getting staff help for it.

Catherine Carr:
So I think a lot of what I brought to this program was systems that allowed advocates to do their work while also being very conscious that we didn’t want to over systematize or over paper this place. People value a lot of flexibility and creativity. I did not want this to be the kind of organization where there’s a strategic plan that says the housing unit is going to do x, y, and z for the next four years. Instead the housing unit is going to have the resources it needs to be flexible and to jump and to meet and to talk but also that’s got to be done in a way where your new people are supervised and supported and where you help the fundraisers bring in funds. That balance is the hard thing about management. You talk to people who say they’re in legal aid programs where if they want a pencil they have to fill out a form. I want people to have the tools they need, whether that’s the litigation costs covered in the budget for your depositions and transcripts or it’s your papers and pencils or the computer on your desk.

Catherine Carr:
They talk about non-profit organizations taking on the characteristics of its clients. I felt like this place had been run like we were poor. We were poor. We are poor. But, I think we want to both move our clients to a place that they’re not poor and we want to move our operations to a place where they are sophisticated. I’m not going to throw money away. We’re not going to have fancy lunches for staff or anything, but you know what if we have a unit meeting and they want to have a pizza, I want to have the ten bucks for a pizza. I think that was a lot of what I did, which was marrying of an already dynamic creative advocacy program with fabulous staff to some systems to boost and build it. And to really look for and to envision ourselves as the people who are going to be models for the rest of the country, in systems but also in work. I think we’ve really been successful at that as well in terms of the issues.

Alan Houseman:
Yeah how do you explain the fact that CLS has the premier employment unit in the country and the vision in that you are one of the first programs that really looked at child support in a systemic way?

Catherine Carr:
Right, right, right. Mortgage foreclosure and predatory lending, we were in there way early. Elder law, right. I think of it as culture. So we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. What happened 50 years ago to birth that culture? I mean there have been legal programs all around the country that have done fabulous impact work. In the 1990’s, Hastings Law Review did an article about great legal aid programs. It was the early days of computer Lexis searches. They basically searched for the program with the most reported litigation decisions and CLS won that. So there was an article saying that we were the best legal aid program. I mean it’s one measure. I’m not sure it’s the measure, but it was a measure and we certainly touted that. There’s always been a value on aggressive affirmative litigation. That has attracted fabulous people and I feel like the culture has said go for it. Even as I was trying to build some more systems and controls, always there’s been a kind of attitude, if you have a great idea, go for it. Ultimately I feel like it’s getting the right people and allowing them to do the work that they want to do and supporting their creativity. As director here, there was always so much going on that I couldn’t keep track of it. I couldn’t talk about all the fabulous work that was going on. You have to have a team that’s overseeing that.

Catherine Carr:
I think one of the things I brought was a fairly quick decision making. I always felt like I needed to recognize that if I took too long to make decisions, I was going to stifle stuff on the ground. Communicating an expectation of great work. Communicating an expectation of thinking about new things and new ways to help clients. Constantly rethinking the role of your work without having great big long strategic planning processes where you’re writing everything on a piece of paper. Instead, every unit, every advocate ideally, is constantly questioning and thinking about their work — what’s most effective, what’s changing, and how do you adapt to those changes? I think that’s been the culture and I think somehow it’s worked out. Just to mention the mortgage foreclosure stuff. Philadelphia has always had huge numbers of poor people in rundown housing stock. So we saw mortgage foreclosures really early on. Legal aid people developed creative solutions and bankruptcy solutions, some of which have disappeared because of bad law changes. People saw that and I mean Henry Sommer became a national bankruptcy expert. He came out of CLS. I think if I had advice to give I would say get great people and control them and watch them so they don’t do anything crazy. But also give them a lot of room.

Catherine Carr:
One thing I think that has been my job through all of this, and a really difficult job, is walking, I call it, the tight rope of Executive Director, managing the politics of our work. We frequently sued the Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Public Welfare was for a large period our largest single funder. How did we do that? It’s about relationships. So we made relationships with the Governor’s counsel, whether it was a Republican or Democratic attorney. This was started before me. Whether it was a Democratic or Republican Governor, they had a lawyer who we needed to know and we needed to discuss with, and we needed to give heads ups to when we were going to sue them.

Catherine Carr:
Always our ultimate loyalty had to be to the clients and to the work we were doing on the clients but at the same time, you have to factor in, if you do something stupid, that means you lose millions of dollars in funding next year. That has a tremendous impact on clients as well. That kind of politically figuring out how to represent your clients aggressively and creatively while also explaining your work to opponents. Explaining that we are doing things right to the powers that be, who are often maybe on the other side, I think was a really important part of my job.

Alan Houseman:
I have two more questions then we got to end this.

Catherine Carr:
Sure.

Alan Houseman:
One is, you’ve been a national player, so why don’t you talk a little bit about some of your national work, because it’s important and a lot of people perceive you as a national player.

Catherine Carr:
One of the wonderful things about being an Executive Director was getting to know the national community. I’d gotten to know some of the national Social Security litigators and advocates. But I got to know the management community and it’s a wonderful community. I got involved in the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, which I always just thought was so critically important particularly just for one thing, the work it does to get congressional funding for LSC. I just felt like boy everybody in the field ought to be appreciating the work they did. It was incredibly important to us when we were going through our split process and beyond. The Management Information Exchange, which puts out a journal that I’m still very involved in, was terribly useful to Executive Directors to share things they’re going through, to share information. I’m actually President of that board at this time, and still involved with that journal that comes out four times a year.

Catherine Carr:
I got involved in the American Bar Association. Somebody pulled me into the section of litigation which was supporting legal aid and was supporting fundraising in legal aid. That was important so I got to know some of the work that was going on in the American Bar Association. I feel like CLS has a lot to offer in terms of models for some aggressive advocacy and the systems work. Getting my folks out to train people at some of these conferences and to share what they’re doing always struck me as important. So it was both me but I also like to think it was the rest of the staff playing a nationally helpful role. Especially since we don’t have backup centers and support centers of the strength that we did when I started as an attorney.

Alan Houseman:
Finally, you’ve thought about the role of civil legal aid in addressing the problems of low income people. How do you see that role?

Catherine Carr:
The role of assisting low income people with access to justice?

Alan Houseman:
Well that’s my point.

Catherine Carr:
Okay.

Alan Houseman:
This comes from the heart. There is the access to justice agenda that’s going on.

Catherine Carr:
Right.

Alan Houseman:
There is a poverty agenda from the past.

Catherine Carr:
Right.

Alan Houseman:
There’s an equal justice agenda. All of these in theory are at least are centered around low income people, though access to justice is broader.

Catherine Carr:
Right.

Alan Houseman:
Trying to figure out a way to provide concrete help to people in need and help them resolve their legal problems.

Catherine Carr:
Right.

Alan Houseman:
My question is, how do you envision the system for the future?

Catherine Carr:
Well I think of course what we really need is tremendous amounts of new resources, right. I mean I think the $400 million in terms of federal funding for civil legal aid is an abomination and that needs to change. My vision is that we need to expand the work. But in the meantime, as we have limited resources, we need to be careful and focus what is the legal aid role. The court systems have a tremendous amount more money than the legal aid system at this point. So figuring out how to use the court resources for some of the more limited representation and the more sort of 100% access that some people are calling it. I think we need to expect more of our court system in terms of helping people who are not represented. Then legal aid needs to figure out, as long as we are dealing with such limited amounts of money, to be very careful about prioritizing our work in a way that we are helping individuals but we are also using the information we gather. This has been very much the CLS model, to address the systems change so that we can help many times more people who do not walk into our offices.

Catherine Carr:
If we knew everybody in this country was going to have a lawyer for their legal problem, would that change our work on impact? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe we would say instead of having to do class actions everybody would have a lawyer. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we also cannot lose the vision of legal aid as a voice for the voiceless. A voice in a country where more and more money means you have the ability to get your story heard, to get your government officials to respond. More and more I think the poorest in this country are not going to have their needs taken into account without the work of advocates like we have in the legal aid world. I think an extremely important part of the future of civil legal aid has to be to protect the ability of advocates to talk about systemic problems that poor people face. We cannot give that up.

Catherine Carr:
Yes, we’ve got to figure out how we help all of the people who are now walking into courthouses or going through life’s legal problems without lawyers. But we’ve got to be very careful to protect what we’ve seen as the anti-poverty worker, or the systems work, or at least I like to think of it as giving a voice in our democratic system, be it in the legislatures, be it in the judiciary or the executive branch, giving a voice to people who without legal aid, really haven’t the slightest clue or the slightest power to make themselves heard.

Alan Houseman:
Great. Thank you much. You’ve been terrific.

Catherine Carr:
Okay, thank you Alan for doing this.