access to justice is fundamental to democracy. Because low-income
Americans are deprived of a point of access to justice in America,
legal services for the poor help to remedy this disparity. Legal
Services Corporation has proved to be indispensable in providing
legal services to the poor in an efficient and effective manner.
In order to ensure equal access to justice across the nation, Legal
Services Corporation should not be abolished. (ACLU, Siegel and Landau,
Services has helped to destroy the independence and dignity of poor
people and to create a permanent underclass. Its activities undermine
both the family and the larger community. For the sake of the American
taxpayer -- and for the sake of America's poor -- it is time to abolish
the Legal Services Corporation. (The Heritage Foundation, Boehm and
Legal Services Corporation has been the target of frequent criticism.
Since its inception, it has been one of the most controversial government
programs. This criticism has increased as the Conservative majority
in the United States Congress attempts to end the Legal Services
Corporation. These attempts are certain to have an adverse impact
on efforts to reduce homelessness and poverty. Access to legal services
is an important tool in our efforts to reduce or prevent homelessness.
Law clinics funded by the LSC prevent homelessness through work related
to housing, as well as through efforts to protect the fragile economic
status of thousands of poor Americans. Attorneys in these clinics
often provide the last hope for individuals in dire straits.
paper begins with a brief history of federally funded legal services.
This discussion is followed by a description of the research design
used in collecting much of the data used in this paper. Following
this brief discussion of methods, the role LSC funded clinics play
in reducing homelessness is described. This discussion is enlightened
by the comments of LSC funded attorneys. Dilemmas faced by those
involved with legal services are also discussed. Finally, the survival
efforts of LSC funded law clinics are discussed.
THE LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION
of the LSC lie in President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty. The
Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) began making grants to local
legal aid organizations in 1965. The result of these grants was immediately
felt in poor communities as OEO lawyers handled more than a million
cases each year (Brill, 1973). In 1974, the OEO legal aid system
was replaced by the Legal Services Corporation. The LSC was created
to provide basic legal assistance to poor Americans. It is a private
nonprofit corporation established to help provide low income Americans
with equal access to justice under the law. The LSC was designed
as an independent corporation to make it "immune to political pressure," as
President Nixon suggested (ABA, 1996). Like its predecessor, the
LSC does not directly provide legal services to the poor. Assistance
is provided by local legal aid offices that receive grants determined
by a formula based on poverty rates in various service areas (Nickles,
1995). The local legal aid offices also receive funding from states,
IOLTA (interest on lawyer trust accounts), and from private nonprofit
groups ranging from the United Way to groups interested in issues
related to housing, elder law, or other issues that adversely affect
of the LSC, coupled with a Republican majority in the United States
Congress, has resulted in severe funding cuts. These cuts are accompanied
by calls to end the LSC. While the LSC has recently survived what
many would say is its closest call with death, funding for 1996 was
cut by a third to $278 million. This funding cut brings funding close
to that provided in 1981. By factoring in inflation we see that 1996
funding for legal services to the poor is lower than at any point
since the 1960's. Critics in Congress have, up to this point, failed
in their promised efforts to "zero out"1 the LSC by 1998. Along
with funding cuts, significant restrictions have been placed on LSC
activity. LSC funded law offices are now forbidden from engaging
in redistricting litigation and class action suits of any kind. Other
provisions in the most recent funding bill limit representation of
certain non citizens and prohibit representation of persons accused
of drug use in public housing evictions. LSC attorneys are also prohibited
from litigation, lobbying, or rulemaking in an effort to amend or
challenge existing welfare law.
severe restriction on LSC funded law clinics is that regardless of
where the money for the case originates, no legal services agency
that takes federal funds can pursue cases involving legislative redistricting,
abortion, prisoners' rights, welfare reform, public housing evictions
for alleged drug crimes, alien representation, or class actions.
In effect, all funding to LSC funded clinics, regardless of the funding
source, is subject to the same restrictions as funds provided by
the federal government. This restriction obviously restricts case
selection. More important, this restriction may reduce the motivation
for this type of funding. The legislation has taken federal money
from LSC funded law clinics at the same time as it restricts the
ability to secure alternate sources of funding.
of the LSC have delivered a very severe blow to the LSC. The director
of a legal aid clinic in Upstate New York suggests that the actions
of LSC critics in the United States Congress
could not have been better
planned.2 The clinic director suggested that the critics
learned from Ronald Reagan's failed attempts to kill the LSC. They
used this knowledge to plan a strategy that would severely restrict,
if not end, federally funded efforts to provide legal services to
the poor. Legal services attorneys are frustrated, upset, and confused
by actions taken by the U.S. Congress.
of LSC attorneys provide much of the data for the research presented
in this paper. The opinions and actions of practicing public interest
lawyers are the primary focus of this research. In particular, public
interest lawyers employed in law offices that receive funding from
the LSC. The geographic area from which these lawyers were selected
is limited to Upstate New York. Interviews took place with attorneys
employed in two regional legal service centers. Each of these centers
serves a multi county area which includes rural areas as well as
two of the most populous metropolitan areas in New York. The Director
of each of these clinics and the directors of satellite offices were
interviewed. Interviews also took place with the litigation director
and one or two staff attorneys in each office. Data collection took
place at a difficult time. In fact, these clinics were facing a very
real crisis. Interviews were conducted just after the Republicans
won control of the House and Senate. The future of the LSC was very
much in doubt. Legislation proposed in the House of Representatives
was very restrictive in terms of funding and activity. The legal
services offices in which the interviews took place accepted that
serious cuts and restrictions were likely. They were making plans
for cutbacks, although the scope of the cutbacks was not yet clear.
The local legal clinics, and individuals employed in these clinics,
were under a great deal of stress. Personal, professional, and organizational
futures were uncertain.
THE NEED FOR A SAFETY
to legal services is important to all Americans. It can be even more
important to a group of Americans who are often at the mercy of inefficient
and under-funded government programs. Black (1989) discusses law
as a qualitative variable. In Black's words, the "quantity of law
is the amount of governmental authority brought to bear on a person
or group" (1989:8). Black argues that law varies directly with social
status. For example, a low social status individual will be at a
disadvantage when the opposing party occupies a superior social status.
structural bias against the poor, when faced with litigation against
a government agency, is compounded by what Black refers to as a natural
advantage of "legal corporatism" (1989:45). Black writes that the "most
fateful transactions in modern life increasingly occur between individuals
and formally constituted organizations. And in nearly all these transactions,
the organizations have the advantage" (1989:45). Galanter (1975)
makes a similar argument in his research describing reasons why the "haves" come
out ahead. Galanter reasons that repeat players, such as the government
or corporations, have an advantage over less frequent participants
in the legal system. Individuals, especially those with little political
power, are faced with a structural disadvantage when forced to fight
for rights that are guaranteed by the government. When this low level
of political influence is combined with the impact of low social
status, we see a group of individuals in serious need of legal assistance.
Legal assistance, when provided by a repeat player experienced in
fighting the structurally advantaged governmental agencies, can be
an effective tool in the effort to level the playing field.
and Galanter have provided a sociological explanation of the increased
need for legal representation of the poor. Others adopt a due process
view in arguing the case for access to law. This argument is typified
by Bright, who argues that "the most fundamental element of a fair
process is the right to counsel" (1996:851). Bright refers to Gideon
v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) which held that a poor person
accused of a felony is entitled to a lawyer. A strong argument can
be made for the expansion of the right to counsel in any governmental
action intended to deprive a person of life, liberty, or the pursuit
of happiness. However, as Bright points out, the promise of free
representation has not been realized, not even in death penalty cases.
We cannot expect the right to counsel to be readily extended to civil
cases, especially when this right is being treated so casually in
very serious criminal cases. When the right to counsel is to be provided
to homeless individuals, the chance of political support for this
right seem even less likely.
HOLES IN THE SAFETY NET
LSC has been an effective safety net for thousands of people. However,
the net has not been wide enough. A study funded by the New York
State Bar Association found that not more than 14% of the legal needs
of the poor were being met. As a result, the poor in New York State
faced nearly three million civil legal problems in the Study year
without legal assistance (Spangenberg, 1993). In discussing the legal
needs of the homeless, one respondent in the Spangenberg Study reported
that the "greatest unmet need of the homeless is the prevention of
homelessness in the first place" (1993:116). While it is clear that
the homeless also have a great need for legal assistance, this assistance
can be difficult to offer to a client without a permanent residence.
The Spangenberg Study described several examples of litigation directed
toward addressing the problems of the homeless. Each of these examples
involved a class action suit, a category of litigation that is now
forbidden to LSC funded legal clinics.
safety net, however flawed, has prevented many individuals from becoming
homeless. An example of successful intervention by an LSC funded
attorney is provided by Rene Torrado, President of the Chicago Bar
Association (1995). Torrado tells of a woman who suffered a nervous
breakdown after being fully employed for more than 22 years. The
woman was hospitalized for an extended period, unable to work. She
remained unable to work after her discharge and began missing mortgage
payments. The principle balance on her loan was just $3,300. The
mortgage company filed a foreclosure action and the Sheriff scheduled
a sale of the property. Just before the property was to be auctioned,
the woman obtained the help of the Legal Assistance Foundation of
Chicago. The Legal Assistance attorney promptly persuaded the mortgage
company to halt the foreclosure and negotiate a payment plan. The
attorney's intervention was a cost-effective means for saving the
woman's home. The action prevented another individual from becoming
Upstate New York, eviction proceedings had commenced against an emotionally
troubled man with sufficient funds to pay his rent. The legal assistance
attorney, after learning that the man had enough money to pay his
rent, asked her client why he did not send the landlord a check.
His response was that he was embarrassed over forgetting to mail
his rent. His embarrassment apparently prevented him from responding
to the landlord's subsequent requests for payment. The problem was
cleared up with one phone call from the attorney.
former client of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles reports
that if it were not for legal aid she would be on the street (Moffat,
1995). This woman, her husband, and their family were swindled out
of their title and were about to be evicted from their home. The
Legal Aid attorney filed suit the day before the family was to be
evicted and prevented the eviction.
public housing resident, who was confined to a wheelchair, was being
forced to leave her apartment. Her eviction was required by law since
she was living alone in a two-bedroom unit. Since she was being offered
a one-bedroom unit, the property management felt that her needs were
being addressed. Unfortunately, the floor plan in the one bedroom
unit would not accommodate her wheelchair. When notified of this
issue, the property manager's response was that the tenant would
have to find housing elsewhere. The housing regulations were clearly
running in opposition to the Americans With Disabilities Act, yet
the managers were standing firm. That is until the woman suddenly
found legal representation. After several phone calls with her LSC
funded attorney, the property managers agreed to allow the woman
to stay in her present apartment while modifications were made to
a one bedroom unit. This woman did not have sufficient clout to force
the property managers to follow the law. Without the assistance of
her LSC funded attorney she may have joined the ranks of the homeless.
cases are typical of the caseload in the LSC funded offices in which
the interviews took place. Nationwide, housing problems are the second
largest category of legal services cases (Cardin, 1995). More than
20 percent of legal services cases involve landlord tenant law, evictions,
helping the homeless find appropriate housing, or the prevention
of foreclosure. Legal services attorneys worked more than 375,000
housing cases in 1994 (Cardin, 1995). Former LSC President Alexander
Forger, in testimony before a Senate Committee, stated that the vast
majority of cases handled by legal services programs are individual
matters growing out of the everyday legal problems of the poor. According
to Forger (1995) the most common categories of cases are "family,
housing, income maintenance, consumer, and employment. Case types
frequently encountered include evictions, foreclosures, divorces,
child custody, child support, spousal abuse, child abuse or neglect,
bankruptcy, debt collection, and unemployment disability, veterans,
and other benefit claims." A review of this list illustrates the
contribution LSC funded attorneys make in preventing homelessness.
In each of these cases, the client has a very real potential of becoming
homeless. Each of these cases can be devastating to anyone. The effect
can be even more devastating when you are always just a few dollars
away from being homeless.
cases may seem to be routine. In fact, many law firms routinely reject
cases of this type. The reality is that these cases "often represent
matters of crisis for individual clients and their families. The
possible consequences may be as serious as the loss of a family's
home or its only source of income or the breakup of the family. Left
unresolved, such problems can cost society far more than the cost
of legal services to help address them" (Folger, 1995). This sentiment
was also expressed in interviews with LSC attorneys.
attorney said that many of his coworkers had become "a lot more crisis
oriented over the past couple of years than it had been up until
now. Many of our clients, if we don't intervene, and if we aren't
successful, will wind up with no food. You know for a few days until
the next food stamp allotment comes, or they may end up homeless,
or locked out, or with no heat, or with no hot water, or no electricity." This
attorney continued, "there are more poor people, or at least more
people on public assistance, in the five counties in our service
area. The case loads have risen dramatically. Low income people who
have lived in areas for years are getting priced out of their neighborhoods.
Also, there are fewer jobs. So there are fewer job opportunities,
people are being priced out of housing, welfare grants have stayed
the same, since 1986 when I got here. And so a seemingly trivial
legal problem, or what would have been, you know just a pain in the
butt five years ago, can result in your spending your money on food
instead of rent, and getting evicted, because your food stamps didn't
come on time."
crisis nature of LSC work was discussed in many of the interviews.
These attorneys clearly understood their role as the last hope for
many of their clients. They knew they were providing a valuable service
and were part of an effective tool in the effort to prevent homelessness.
They only wished they could help more clients, and could continue
to do so for a long time. Many attorneys reported that they spend
a large percentage of their time on "emergency cases." Some attorneys
are in a position where they can't get to the litigation because
of the crush of emergencies. The attorney may not have the option
of going to court when an individual is about to be evicted,. The
attorney is this client's last hope and quick negotiation is needed
to put out this fire. As one attorney said, "the timing of (emergencies)
takes over your life and it does not often leave room to do the kinds
of litigation that you feel you should do or would like to do."
of the attorneys interviewed expressed concern over the amount of
time spent on crisis cases. Some were frustrated over their inability
to attack the root causes of their clients' problems. The attorneys
were aware of the fact that each client is most likely just one of
a long line of clients with this problem. However, since resources
are limited, these attorneys accepted that it may be most efficient
to get help for this client as soon as possible. Much of the work
performed by LSC funded attorneys involves putting out fires, often
these are emergency situations. The source of the fires may be obvious,
but resources limit any attempt to modify the source. The problem,
as one attorney put it, is that we just keep battling a forest fire
with a garden hose, "they own the rest of the forest while we are
putting out small fires."
CRISIS IN LEGAL SERVICES
was clearly a sense of crisis among the attorneys interviewed for
this research. This crisis was clear on several fronts. Each individual
attorney was facing a personal crisis, the law clinic was facing
an organizational crisis, and the clients were facing an even greater
crisis than that which currently existed. Each of these dilemmas
is discussed below.
morale was very low. Considering the degree of uncertainty, this
was to be expected. Attorneys interviewed for this research felt
that political events had taken a horrible turn for the worse. These
attorneys were faced with a number of very serious personal and professional
issues. A number of them were uncertain as to their futures with
the local legal services office. They knew that jobs would be lost
but were unsure of the criteria to be used for these cuts. A staff
attorney with nearly ten years experience talked about how she and
her husband, who also worked in the office, "wake up at 4:00 in the
morning in a sweat not knowing what I'm going to do if I don't have
a job." Some of these attorneys discussed job options that had been
available in the past. It was clear that several attorneys were questioning
the directions they had taken with their careers. In spite of this
questioning, all respondents planned to remain in the law. Additionally,
there was only one instance where an attorney openly considered seeking
a job away from the public interest field. Each hoped to continue
helping the same client population, although they were not sure how
to best accomplish this outside their current positions.
facing each of these organizations were most apparent when speaking
with the directors. A number of the issues were obvious to them,
while other issues were less obvious. For example, the directors
had a clear idea of how layoffs would occur. They expected morale
to suffer once layoffs started, but felt that morale had not suffered
as of yet. In contrast, the staff attorneys clearly indicated that
they had seen examples of lowered morale. Staff attorneys provided
examples of low morale that stemmed from uncertainty about losing
their jobs. The clinic directors' failure to recognize the low morale
compounded the problem. The directors, assuming that low morale was
not a serious concern, withheld information that could have increased
morale as a result of diminished uncertainty. Many staff attorneys
did not want to consider the organizational issues. Some commented
that they were not involved or interested in political issues involving
the future of the organization. Many attorneys, when asked about
problems associated with legislation that would limit the use of
non LSC funds, replied that they were not knowledgeable about the
funding issues. It was clear that these attorneys preferred to keep
doing their jobs without worrying about such issues.
major management issue, with the greatest potential to, as one director
put it, "stop legal services as we've known it in this country for
many years," was related to a provision in the proposed legislation
that would force a clear boundary between LSC and non LSC funds.
In effect, LSC funds would "taint" all other funds since the same
restrictions would apply to all funds, however generated, used in
an LCS funded office. This was a serious issue. For example, one
of the offices, received $1 million of its $1.8 million dollar budget
from non LSC sources. The local offices expected a reduction in LSC
money by at least a third. The funding problem was compounded by
the concern that restrictions would make it more difficult to secure
non LSC money since the foundation for an effective and efficient
legal services firm was reduced with the loss of federal money. In
effect, a legal services office would have to split into separate
entities to keep receiving funds from LSC and non LSC sources. Such
an arrangement severely limits efficiency in an area already suffering
from too much demand and too little resources.
exception, all attorneys interviewed were very concerned about the
future of their client population. One staff attorney stated that
he always tries to avoid duplication of services. If it is possible
to get assistance for a client elsewhere, he is quick to refer the
client to another social agency. As a result, he is the last chance
for help for each of his clients. This attorney said that the most
frequent question he gets from clients is "if you can't help me,
who can?" In many cases this attorney knows that "no one is going
to help you, there is a gap in the system."
attorney said that "it's a two pronged attack, people seem to forget
that whatever is happening to legal services, about ten times worse
is happening to our clients. Even if (LSC critics) weren't targeting
us as a corporation, our work would be changing drastically because
of everything that's happening at the federal level in terms of food
stamps, child care, AFDC, and Medicare and Medicaid." This attorney
continues to say that "not only is the welfare being attacked, but
the supports that make it possible for our clients to get jobs and
keep jobs are being attacked . . . So we see the work that we have
to do as quadrupling, if not more, over the next year, and at the
same time there is a second attack upon legal services itself that
is clearly going to reduce our funding."
interesting issue was raised by a number of attorneys. One stated
that "from a philosophical standpoint, people out there are better
off having lawyers to handle their disputes." This attorney felt
that without access to legal services the only thing left was "desperation,
increasing pressure to do something dramatic, being left with no
choice. Go to jail, take your chances on going to jail. It's an extremely
bad situation." Another talked about seeing "clients coming in here,
talking about doing something violent if they don't get a solution
to their problem. Even if they are wrong, they can talk to a lawyer,
someone who is not associated with the bad guys." Another said that "not
only are we more stressed out, we are dealing with clients who are
more stressed out."
director of one office talked about increased client frustration
resulting from a variety of factors. "The people we served in the
past with mental problems have bigger mental problems now. More volatile
behavior . . . its becoming more and more dangerous to work here." This
attorney talked about "threats, and loud behavior, pounding fists,
I mean people are at the end of their ropes. They don't think things
will work out. They've been to the shelter for the maximum period
of time and now they are getting kicked out of the shelter. They
are desperate." According to this attorney the tendency toward aggressive
behavior has "increased over the last year or two years. We are developing
an underclass in this country and it's getting worse and worse."
A LEFT-WING LSC?
argument commonly made by LSC critics is that the LSC too often focuses
on "political causes and class action suits rather than helping poor
Americans solve their legal problems" (House Budget Committee Chairman
John Kasich, quoted in Savage, 1995). Many of the interviews turned
to issues of the perception of the LSC as anti-government or anti-business.
Many felt that this was a naive conclusion. Several stated that all
anybody has to do is work in a legal services office and that impression
was "pretty much destroyed in the first couple of days." Many pointed
out that individuals in corporate America "have to depend on our
clients for their businesses." One attorney pointed out that "if
a tenant can't come up with rent to pay, that's going to hurt the
landlord, if the landlord doesn't receive the rent they can't pay
the mortgage and that's going to hurt the banks. When we get involved,
the landlord gets the rent, and the bank gets the mortgage. So it
goes right up the chain of command." Similarly, several attorneys
criticized the attitude that we are giving welfare to people to buy
Cadillacs. One pointed out that "no, they are buying groceries at
local supermarkets, you know the landlord is getting paid with the
money. People should take the next step and see that you are helping
the community stay vibrant." One attorney felt that it was important
to stress the pro-business and pro-government potential of the LSC.
This attorney wanted to make critics understand that the LSC actually
provided some benefit to them. This was important "since without
that, if you are not compassionate toward our clientele and that
part of the population . . . I think you need to provide them with
a self interest for our continuation."
attorneys also felt that the state could benefit from increasing
the respect for the poor and their legal representatives. As one
attorney put it, "if you are suing the state because you are trying
to enforce a regulation that the federal government has created,
that is pro-government." The issue of forcing government agencies
to follow their own regulations came up regularly in these interviews.
The general theme was that if government agencies wanted to put LSC
funded legal clinics out of business, the best tactic would be for
these agencies to simply start following their own rules. Although,
amid a feeling that they and their clients were being abandoned by
the government, some attorneys were reluctant to accept their role
of enforcing government rules. One attorney stated that she felt
that this "was more true when the rules were good. I mean now that
the rules are bad, if they don't follow their own rules, I'm not
sure what that will mean."
interviews took place at a time of great uncertainty. It is extremely
difficult to predict the future of these law clinics. That said,
it seemed that two possibilities are becoming apparent. One was that
the existing legal service offices would split in two. This would
create a difficult management situation and an even more difficult
situation involving the accounting of time, money, personnel, and
other resources. Since much of the current non LSC money was provided
to serve certain clients, these offices were already accustomed to
the accounting difficulties. The problem with the pending legislation
was that all non LSC money, some of which could only be used for
SSI related cases, or was restricted to clients more than 60 years
of age, would now be subject to the same restrictions that have been
placed on money provided by the LSC. This turned an accounting problem
into what seemed to be an impossible situation.
second possibility was that these offices would forgo federal money
in order to work on the type of cases they felt were most important.
One director stated that a problem with going on their own, without
LSC money, was that some area organization would certainly go after
the LSC money. This would only add another layer to an already cumbersome
array of legal service providers. This individual felt that it would
be preferable to manage the legal needs of the poor in a more efficient
fashion and that adding new layers only added to the inefficiency,
and overall cost, of providing legal services to the poor.
issue discussed in interviews involved the issue of creating a new
mind set in the government and corporate America. Perhaps this will
be necessary if these attorneys are to have a future in legal services
to the poor. If they are able to convince corporate America that
their clients are potential consumers, these clients may begin to
be treated with respect. There are signs that this may be possible.
For example, bankruptcy lawyers in Philadelphia have formed the Consumer
Bankruptcy Assistance Project (CBAP), a pro bono effort directed
at the financial problems faced by the city's poorest residents (Sykes,
1994). This group was formed in light of two issues faced by the
Philadelphia Bar. One issue was related to court calendars. Bankruptcy
judges in Philadelphia observed that their calendars were being filled
with debtors who had filed petitions without the assistance of counsel.
These debtors had to have every step explained to them, usually by
the judges themselves. As we know, the issue of strained judicial
resources is not unique to Philadelphia. Access to legal services,
especially services that include the high amount of negotiated settlement
that we see in LSC funded law clinics, will prevent increased strain
on the justice system.
second issue related to the formation of the CBAP was the realization
that the power to consume needed to be protected. Individuals served
by this program were not stereotypical debtors who incurred debts
they knew they could never repay. These clients were hard working
Americans caught in unfortunate situations. Some were homeless, or
about to be homeless, over debts of less that $1000. Bankruptcy for
these clients meant that certain creditors would not get full payment.
However, the clients were able to stay in their homes, continue to
pay rent, utility bills, and car payments, and would be able to feed
major issue related to the future of LSC funded law offices is related
to funding. Funding from sources other than the LSC is dependent
on continually efficient operation of the law clinic. Outside funders
may not be prepared to fund the entire operational expenses of these
law clinics. The clinic exists because of LSC money. Since LSC money
covers the overhead, non LSC money is used only for representing
populations targeted by non LSC grants. If these funding sources
do not continue to get an adequate "bang for their buck," the funding
may disappear. Continued legal advocacy for the target populations
will be dependent on the degree to which outside funding sources
are able to redefine the purposes for making these grants. This rethinking
seems possible since restrictions placed on all funds used by LSC
funded law offices are now subject to a number of serious restrictions.
Since the U.S. Congress has already taken away much of the bang provided
by these bucks, the funders are already forced to reexamine the effectiveness
of grants made to these law clinics. The outside funders will be
relied upon more heavily if their client population is to be served
through the legal system. How this service is to be funded has yet
to be determined.
in an essay that describes a number of alternative forms of advocacy
to the poor, writes that "the innovative spirit (poverty lawyers)
demonstrate reflects the ongoing search by lawyers and clients to
find ways for the American legal profession to ameliorate poverty" (1995:1124).
Trubek reports success in the areas of increasing representation
for battered women, low-income entrepreneurs, and nonprofit community-based
organizations that serve the poor. Like a few of the attorneys interviewed
for this research, Trubek is optimistic that efforts to provide legal
assistance to the poor will continue. Trubek's analysis of the situation
faced by poverty lawyers suggest that it may be necessary to adopt
strategies that have been effective for more successful clients.
In contrast, Feldman suggests that this is exactly the wrong direction
to take. He advocates a move toward "aggressive political action" within
a tightly organized group acting as an "anti-state catalyst for change." He
suggests that poverty lawyers should strive for "strategies that
provoke and unsettle 'business as usual'" (1995:1626).
(1995) suggests that poverty lawyers have been slow to adopt new
approaches to problem solving. Additionally, the poverty bar has
been reluctant to change because "there is a real tension between
preserving what works and ensuring that the delivery system also
promotes innovation and change" (Houseman, 1995:1703). It would seem
likely that this inability to change is about to end as the result
of the efforts of the Republican majority. While the direction of
this change is difficult to predict, major changes are imminent.
It is clear that the roles of LSC funded attorneys, and the mission
of LSC funded law offices, are being forced to change. New organizations,
with very different missions, are likely to form as a result of changes
in the LSC. Public interest lawyers are faced with new limitations
on their efforts. However, given the commitment of these individuals,
it is likely that they will continue their efforts to help the poor
and other under represented groups.
respondent reported that "it didn't work out as he had hoped." He
went to law school feeling that "through the medium of law we could
make very fundamental changes." He talked about a legal services
mission statement from the 1970's in which the goal was to "abolish
poverty." As he put it, "we would not adopt a mission statement like
that in 1990." This attorney, a longtime public interest lawyer,
was discussing a shift in his personal ideology as a result of gaining
a clearer picture of what was possible through the law. This individual's
realization may be analogous to that of the LSC as a whole. It might
be said that for a number of reasons, the LSC did not work out as
many had hoped.
LSC funded law firms have examined their case loads, both real and
potential, and each realize that they do not, and most likely never
will have, the resources necessary to help all in need. In spite
of all the bad news, these attorneys are able to stay focused on
their goals. They feel that the cumulative effects of their efforts
are having a positive impact on the client community. One attorney
reported that although this is hard to do, given the constant demands
of the job, if you stop and look at the big picture there have been "some
areas where we fought enough little fires that it put a stop to the
of the best stories heard in the course of these interviews involved
the positive effects of very simple interventions. Much of this intervention
occurred as a result of a single phone call by an attorney. Even
some of the most cause oriented attorneys became misty eyed as they
talked about making a simple phone call to prevent an eviction. These
actions, while not requiring a great deal of legal skill, provide
the motivation that keeps many of these attorneys going. A positive
finding to be reported from this research is that each of these attorneys
is extremely devoted to helping the poor and other under represented
groups. There is little doubt that they will make every effort to
continue doing so. One attorney discussed the rewards of her job.
Her comment provides a clear example of the motivations and perhaps
the ideology of the majority of attorneys interviewed for this research.
are just trying to help somebody make it and I think that for the
vast majority of our
clients that is what keeps them going. Those clients who knit us
caps, send flowers, or bring by a homemade cake to thank us for the
work we did in helping their lives. Most of us are in here because
we believed our parents and school teachers when they taught us that
this country was founded on democratic principles and that everyone
had a right to be treated fairly and equally. I was shocked when
I grew up and realized that isn't the way that everything works all
the time. I just believed what I was told about what this country
stood for and I expect the people who aren't acting that way to get
out of the way and change, to give this country back to those of
us who still believe that everybody ought to be given a chance.
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