Kenneth W. Mentor, J.D., Ph.D.
Didn't Work out as Planned": Career Examination
This research examines the impact that LSC program cuts and restrictions have had on attorneys working in LSC funded law offices.1 As a result of Congressionally imposed restrictions, the past three years have been marked by stress, organizational change, and uncertainty regarding the future. The attorneys interviewed for this research have engaged in a process of career examination as they react to changes in the provision of legal services to the poor. The goal of this research is to describe the reaction to altered context within these organizations. The day to day activity of the attorneys is described, with special emphasis on questions regarding the political nature of LSC work. The research also focuses on distinctions between "cause oriented" and "client based" representation.
Data for this project was collected in three rounds of interviews. The national political atmosphere was very different in each round. During the first round, in early 1994, the offices were in a period of relative calm. President Clinton was supporting the LSC by requesting funding levels higher that at any time in the past. A long siege, which began with Ronald Reagan's efforts to end the LSC, had ended. The attorneys were optimistic about the future of the LSC. While the organizations were struggling with financial limitations that prevented them from serving more than a small percentage of the client population, the attorneys were generally optimistic. Office work and policies were relatively stable and morale was good.
Things changed considerably over the next eighteen months. During this period the Republicans had won control of the U.S. Congress and were threatening to end the LSC. The threats, coupled with major restrictions on LSC funding and activity, led to a very different atmosphere. During the second round of interviews, the House and Senate were each considering bills that would severely limit funding, as well as case selection, in all LSC-funded law offices. It appeared that the LSC would survive, although in a different form, and perhaps for a relatively short time. At the end of 1995 the attorneys were concerned about the loss of funding, the potential for staff cuts, and the possibility that the LSC would be eliminated over the next two to three years. This was a period of extreme stress and uncertainty.
The attorneys were visited for a third time in the Summer of 1997. As anticipated in 1995, Congress had placed significant restrictions on the LSC. These restrictions included funding cuts, limitations on outside funding, and restrictions on case selection and strategy. The organizations had made decisions in anticipation of this legislation. As a result, by the middle of 1997 many of the most difficult decisions had been made. For the LSC, the local organizations, and the individuals employed in these organizations, the crisis had passed. Although serious problems remained, intense frustration and uncertainty had been replaced by thoughtful planning. This planning was taking place in an altered, but relatively stable environment.
The three time periods, each very different, provided unique research opportunities. The attorneys, and the organizations in which they work, experienced a great deal of change over this three year period. They had survived a determined effort to end the LSC and were preparing to move forward in a redesigned system of providing legal services to the poor. The first round interviews focused on the daily activity and rewards of working in an LSC funded law office. In the second round, events were so stressful that it was difficult for the attorneys to focus on anything other than the immediate situation. In round three we discussed organization changes, altered role expectations, and the attorneys' satisfaction with their new roles. Before discussing the data it will be helpful describe the organizations and introduce the attorneys. Next we briefly discuss the methodology used in this research, followed by a discussion of the expressed motivations of LSC critics. We then move to a discussion of the role of public interest lawyers and the motivations for choosing public interest law.
ORGANIZATIONS AND RESPONDENTS
Interviews took place in three LSC-funded organizations. One of the organizations served as a state support center and did not directly serve clients. Only the director of this organization was interviewed. Two regional service centers, one of which split to form two separate organizations before the third round of interviews, were also included. The "Summit" and "Gore" offices were similar in many ways. Each served similar client populations in rural and urban areas. The organizations are described below.
Summit Legal Services
Summit Legal Services (SLS) formed in 1968 with a goal of bringing "the reality of equal justice to those who cannot afford a lawyer" (Summit, 1995:1). In 1996, SLS received 40 percent of their funding from the LSC (Summit, 1996). The State, several state agencies, IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts), the County of Summit, the United Way, several county agencies, a private foundation, and the City of Summit also provided funding (Summit, 1995). SLS is supported by 17 different grants and is constantly searching for additional funding (Summit, 1996). Special grants extend services to individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities in an additional twelve counties (Summit, 1995). In 1995 most clients met LSC income guidelines. Clients generally have an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (Summit, 1996). SLS also receives funding for special projects which provide representation to certain clients (for example, those over 60) without regard to financial eligibility. Each year SLS "lawyers and paralegals close about 4,000 cases, directly impacting the lives of more than 10,000 people" (Summit 1995:1).
SLS has made children a high priority with more than 50 percent of the cases closed in 1994 having an impact on children (Summit, 1995). The organization's efforts to focus on children in poverty are evident in case priority decisions. Income maintenance cases help children obtain food, health care, and general income for their families (Summit, 1995). Housing representation prevents homelessness and keeps families from being unfairly evicted. Housing related representation also helps insure that children have safe and healthy housing. In contrast to critics who argue that the LSC funds anti family litigation (Garcia, 1995), Summit Legal Services point out that "family representation enhances the physical safety of children where there is family violence, resolves family conflict to allow rebuilding of lives, and ensures that critical support services are provided to help kids remain with their families or in settings that will allow them to develop healthy, useful lives" (Summit, 1995:4).
Much of the descriptive information regarding SLS is found in their own publication, which is subtitled "Fulfilling the Promise of Equal Justice" (Summit, 1995). The document begins with a discussion of the right to legal access. While not an official mission statement, the statements made in this document provide evidence of the organization's philosophy. SLS points out that the majority of Americans assume, incorrectly, that legal representation is guaranteed in a civil case if the individual cannot afford a lawyer. SLS suggests that Americans believe the "justice for all" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, or the "equal protection" and "due process" clauses found in the U. S. Constitution. The SLS document suggests that Americans embrace "Equal Justice Under Law," as inscribed on the United States Supreme Court building (Summit, 1995:1). SLS quotes Learned Hand, who wrote that "It is the daily, it is the small, it is the cumulative injuries of little people that we are here to protect" (Summit, 1995:1). SLS believes that democracy exists only when justice is available to all, and they believe that their mission involves addressing the cumulative injuries of many, as opposed to the wholesale solution of inequality. In contrast, as indicated below, GLS speaks of legal issues in broader terms.
Gore Legal Services
Gore Legal Services (GLS) begins their 1994 annual report with a statement regarding philosophy. Their comments focus on broader problems. For example, they write that in 1994 that "the elderly, disabled, and children became the targets for reprisals for the vanishing American Dream. While the rich got richer than everyone else in America, the ideological gulf between the poor and middle class became alarmingly large. In the past, our most effective weapon was often our passionate plea for what was fair and just and right. We have had to learn to change our weapon of choice in the fight to ensure that the law remains a tool for the poor as well as the rich" (Gore, 1994:1). GLS discuss a number of impact cases, either ongoing or completed, in their 1994 annual report. Ten cases, including issues related to Medicaid, Americans with Disabilities Act, health care proxies, the timely processing of requests for Food Stamps and Aid For Dependent Children, and several housing related problems were discussed. GLS also worked with several state agencies in a cooperative effort to design more effective mechanisms to respond to the needs of the client population.
In contrast to the somewhat political 1994 Annual Report, which talked in sweeping terms about the organization's goals, the 1995 Report had changed significantly in tone. Opening comments were "just the facts." Comment on cause oriented cases also stuck to facts. However, this discussion was still somewhat political. For example, rather than broad statements about the impact of cases, the 1995 report listed case names and numbers of people affected. The 1995 overview listed 3,913 individual representation cases that benefitted 10,422 people. Ten impact cases, and six non-litigative impact interventions were listed. GLS lists the number of people affected by impact work as over 320,000 (Gore, 1995), suggesting, through data alone, that their cause oriented work provides a greater contribution to the community.
GLS funding was similar to that found in SLS. GLS was only slightly less reliant on LSC funding. Like SLS, this organization devoted a sizable chunk of organizational resources on the effort to secure additional funding. The organization was careful to monitor client needs they seek additional funding. While in some cases the organization has relatively easy access to grant money, the organization only goes after funding that will support the organization's efforts on behalf of the client population (Collins, 1994).
Job Cuts and Transfers
In the years just prior to 1996, SLS lost more than $600,000 in annual revenue from two major funding sources (Summit, 1996). In 1995, SLS had a staff of thirty-nine, with twenty lawyers and seven paralegals (Summit, 1995). In 1996, SLS had a staff of thirty-two, with eighteen lawyers (one on leave), and three paralegals (Summit, 1996). SLS served a five county area from the main and three regional offices.
Staff cuts were more severe at GLS. In 1994, GLS employed twenty-one attorneys, eight paralegals, and seventeen staff persons in two offices. By the end of 1995, the regional office employed seven attorneys. The main office staff was reduced to nine attorneys. By 1996, GLS employed only three non administrative attorneys in the Gore office as six attorneys, two paralegals, and two staff people transferred to Public Interest Law of Gore (PILG), a new organization formed, without LSC funds, to continue impact cases without LSC mandated restrictions (Gore, 1995). GLS continued to serve the same six county service area between 1994 and 1997. The main office served the Gore County population, which was primarily urban. A regional office continued to serve five rural counties.
The attorneys are introduced below. As with the organizations, fictitious names are used. The descriptions are somewhat generic in order to protect the confidentiality of the attorneys who agreed to participate in this research. Each of the individuals introduced below is quoted at length in this paper. The SLS attorneys are listed first, followed by GLS, and finally the lone respondent from the state support center. I also tell, within the individual descriptions, where each attorney was working in each round of interviews.
Thomas Allen started working for Summit Legal Services in 1991, soon after graduating from law school. Mr. Allen interned with SLS for a summer following graduation. He applied for an opening that occurred at the end of that summer. He is a staff attorney and spends approximately 50 percent of his time on family law and 50 percent on housing issues. While his father and grandfather were both attorneys, Mr. Allen reluctantly entered the legal profession. He reported that he concluded, after working several months as a shoe salesperson, that law school was a valid option (Allen, 1994). Like the others interviewed for this research, he enjoys his job as a Legal Services attorney. He looks forward to going to the office. During the second round of interviews, Mr. Allen believed there was a good chance that he would soon be on the job market. As it turned out, he was able to keep his job. Since others had left the firm voluntarily, Allen's seniority was not a deciding factor in relation to job cuts.
Laura Green was a staff attorney for SLS in 1994. She remained in this position throughout the three rounds of interviews. She, like Tom Allen, took a year off between college and Law School. For Ms. Green, it was a position in a bookstore that convinced her that law school was a good option. After graduation, she worked in a small Washington law firm. Finding this work to be unsatisfying, she looked for work in state agencies and joined an Appellate Prosecutor's office in Illinois for three years before moving to SLS. Most of her SLS cases involve clients who have been labeled mentally ill. Her cases center on abuse and neglect within the system. In 1994 she was active in a few housing cases and several welfare cases, although in each case, the client had a disability related to their housing or welfare claim.
Ryan Fuller was serving as the Acting Director of the SLS office in 1994. His permanent position is Litigation Director, a position to which he had returned when we met in 1995. In 1997, he was on a leave of absence, working in the clinic of the Summit University College of Law. He has worked in the SLS office since 1987. He worked in a Legal Services office while in law school. While an undergraduate, he worked as a Vista volunteer, teaching in a residential treatment center for adolescents. He learned about the law during the Watergate affair, realizing that the law could be a powerful tool for helping those in need (Fuller, 1994). In 1995 Fuller was seriously considering whether he had a future with SLS. He felt that pending federal regulation would redefine his position in a way that he may not be able to define as acceptable (Fuller, 1995).
Dennis Davis was first interviewed during the second round. He became the Executive Director of Summit Legal Services in the second half of 1994. He previously held a position with the American Bar Association, and had been a staff attorney with a legal services office. When asked where he saw himself in ten years, Mr. Davis reported that he had "committed [his] professional career to doing legal services work, I've been in a few places . . . spent some time away, now we are back in [the Summit area] and we're happy. We have settled in, dropped off kids at various other places to go to college and make sure that they don't move back in, and we like it here. We like it very much" (Davis, 1995)2.
Jana Emerson was a Senior Attorney at GLS. Like many of the others, she never really considered a career outside public interest law. Before law school, she reports that she had never met a lawyer in her life, that she never knew anyone who was a lawyer, and that she came from a nonprofessional background. She had a science background and figured that law school might allow her to work in environmental law. After deciding that environmental law was not her cup of tea, she moved toward legal services and began her employment with GLS in 1984. Her responsibilities at GLS are primarily in the area of housing law, although she also assists with complex cases in other areas. By the third round she had left her position with GLS, moving to the newly formed PILG.
During the first two rounds of interviews, Andrew Collins was the Litigation Director at GLS. He was in a similar role at Public Interest Law of Gore (PILG), the new organization spun off from GLS, in 1997. He came to GLS after working as the staff assistant to the head of a federal agency in the Nixon administration. He believes that his work at GLS allows him to participate in very complex legal work, in which the controversy may be in the billions of dollars, and that for the clients, literally everything was riding on the success of the litigation (Collins, 1994). He enjoys keeping up to date on the varying legal problems of GLS clients. This information, supplemented by information from outside sources, helps him assure that the organization is addressing the most pressing client needs.
Sandra Bowen has worked as a public interest attorney since graduating from law school. In 1994 she was the Executive Director of Gore Legal Services. She continued in that role in 1997, although the organization had changed significantly. Her duties are primarily administrative, although in 1994 she was still able to do some work on appellate briefs, major class actions, and some of the impact work (Bowen, 1994). By 1997, her job was entirely administrative, with a significant percentage of her time spent on fund raising activities. When we first met, Ms. Bowen talked about how much she enjoyed her job. She said that she often tells people that she is "the luckiest person in the world. I do something that I think is important. I work with people I respect and love" (Bowen, 1994). As we will see through her comments, she is able to remain optimistic regardless of the situation. There are times when she finds a silver lining in clouds so dark that others seem to feel nothing but despair.
Lance Henson was interviewed in only the second round. His position, as director of an LSC-funded state support center, was somewhat unique. The state support center's mission was to provide expert help to lawyers and paralegals working in local programs throughout. Henson is included since he was among the most seriously impacted by the restrictions. Henson, and his organization, lost all LSC funding with the 1996 cuts. His long career with the LSC was ending. Like many of the attorneys in this research, Henson went to law school planning to be a legal services attorney. He was in the Air Force after college and wasn't sure what he wanted to do after leaving the service. He became aware of organized efforts in regard to legal services to the poor, saw this as a good career choice, and used his G.I. Bill money to go to law school. He had worked in legal services since graduating from law school.
Practicing public interest lawyers are the primary focus of this research. In particular, public interest lawyers employed in law offices that receive(d) funding from the LSC. A limited number of organizations were visited in an effort to understand legal services at a local level. As such, this research is not an effort to describe a national response to changes in the LSC. The goal is to document an ongoing process of change in these LSC-funded law offices.
The director of each office was interviewed. Interviews also took place with the litigation director and one or two staff attorneys in each office. At the onset of this research, in 1994, I made initial contact with the clinic directors. My initial letter included a brief description of the research and a request for permission to interview the director and two or three attorneys. I did not request interviews with specific attorneys, or with attorneys in any particular role. Letters were followed up with phone calls that gave the director an opportunity to ask questions and allowed us to schedule times for interviews. I asked that interviews be scheduled to occur during a five hour block of time, on the same day. This allowed me to speak with each attorney for one to two hours, after which the attorney would escort me to the next interview.
I may have introduced a certain amount of bias by allowing the director to choose who would be interviewed. However, since I was reliant on the directors' generosity in allowing me to take a chunk of valuable time, it seemed inappropriate to place too many restrictions on my request for access. Each director scheduled interviews with him or herself, as well as the litigation director and one or two staff attorneys. The attorneys spoke openly, at times disagreeing with the directors' viewpoints, leading me to believe that the selections were random. Since I asked to be able to complete these interviews during a set period of time, selections were most likely made on the basis of scheduling availability, rather than any effort to alter my perception of life in these offices. The openness in which the attorneys spoke indicates that they provided an honest assessment of their situation. In the first round of interviews our discussions did not turn to information that was difficult to discuss. This changed in later rounds. The level of trust established with the first round made it easier to discuss personal reactions to events that were occurring in later visits.
This research includes several goals, each of which is outlined below. As we moved through the interviews, many issues were discussed. This paper is part of a larger research project. As such, it is difficult to separate the career examination issues from the many other issues that were discussed during the three rounds of interviews. An issue that was discussed at length throughout the interviews was related to the perception that LSC attorneys used their clients to advance certain issues. In this paper I refer to this as the "client/cause" issue. Many of the interviews focused on whether the attorneys preferred to represent one client at a time or whether these attorneys preferred broader, cause oriented, impact litigation. The client/cause issue, although not specifically mentioned in the following goals, was active throughout this research. The goals, briefly stated, are as follows:
LSC Critics - Their Issues and Concerns
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is one of the most controversial federally funded programs. Polarized political debate resulted in funding cuts which were coupled with limitations on the activities of LSC-funded law offices. The debate has centered on a presumption that LSC funded attorneys, and the offices in which they work, are biased toward liberal or progressive change. Critics question the ideology of the attorneys employed in these offices as well as the methods used to represent clients. At the core of the critics' arguments is a concern that politically liberal LSC attorneys use their clients to advance ideological issues. In particular, critics contend that LSC attorneys rely heavily on class action suits, challenges to legislation, lobbying, and other tools intended to force progressive social change. For example, Bennett and DiLorenzo argue that the LSC "has routinely used taxpayer funds not to defend the poor, but to promote radical political objectives that are often irrelevant or detrimental to the poor" (1985:2). They suggest that legal services clients are used as "pawns" to procure taxpayer funding to advance the personal political agenda of LSC-funded attorneys.
A major point of dispute is whether lawyers to the poor should focus on individual representation or impact litigation. Critics do not routinely question whether lawyers should be provided. Instead, they question the role these attorneys play. Other themes are intertwined with concerns regarding the attorney's role. Critics, even if supporting the idea of legal services to the poor, may question the merits of federal funding to achieve this goal. Another common criticism is related to the perception that the LSC, and the attorneys funded by the LSC, are using the poor to advance a liberal political agenda. Each of these themes is explored below.
Federal Funding of LSC Activity
Once the LSC was formed, those opposed to cause oriented work began to make their voices heard. Their criticisms often centered on federal funding for impact litigation, especially when there was no clear method for determining the ideological direction this newly embraced impact litigation would take. Senator Orrin Hatch was a strong LSC critic in the 1980's. The issue of federal funding was troublesome to him, especially when combined with issues of impact litigation and "anti-business" litigation. Hatch (1985) complained about using taxpayer funds to sue taxpayers, the government itself, and corporations on the behalf of special interest groups who may not care about the needs of the poor. Similarly, Bennett and DiLorenzo write that "hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars have been used to fund the political goals of a determined group that has used the needs of the poor as a pretext to obtain vast sums of money from the government" (1985:19). They suggest that taxpayer dollars have been diverted to elect candidates, defeat or support litigation, to finance lobbying, and a number of other activities. McCalpin refers to LSC activity as "the greatest political fraud ever perpetuated" (1990:84) as he discusses the spending of federal money in pursuit of political goals that do not correspond with the needs of the poor. Isaac writes that the LSC "is a giant laundering operation that converts federal into private dollars" (1997:44).
Each of these statements was made by individuals with an ideological perspective which is in conflict with perspectives they presume exists in the LSC. The fact that these statements are made in forums such as The National Review, and publications of the CATO Institute and The American Enterprise Institute, may motivate the reader to discount their merits. This may be a mistake in light of the long running political nature of the debate over legal services to the poor. Each side claims that the other is ignoring facts. While there may be truth to this assertion, there is no doubt that these beliefs have had a significant impact on funding and activity in the LSC-funded law office.
The LSC's Liberal Political Agenda
Many LSC critics believe that LSC-funded attorneys use the poor to advance a liberal, or even left-wing, political agenda. The theme is that LSC attorneys, with little real concern for the poor, use their clients to redistribute wealth, expand the welfare system, undermine the rights of private property owners, and encourage alternative lifestyles (Bennett and DiLorenzo, 1985). Bennett and DiLorenzo argue that legal services attorneys seek cases with "social significance," as defined by the attorneys, rather than society as a whole. They write that "Legal Services is a radical political movement, and tax-financed politics have permeated the agency since its inception" (1985:5).
It is difficult to separate concerns regarding ideological bias from other concerns raised by LSC critics. It is safe to assume that if the LSC endorsed conservative issues, or served to replicate a status quo that discriminates against the poor, there would be less concern, at least from the current set of critics, regarding the behavior of LSC-funded attorneys. But then, if past patterns hold true, another set of critics will enter. It is clear that presumptions regarding political ideology, ideas about funding sources, opinions regarding litigation strategies, and identification with the targets of litigation each work together to create beliefs either for or against the LSC.
The Role of LSC-Funded Attorneys
The first clear definition of the client/cause issue was presented in a widely cited article by Edgar and Jean Cahn (1964). The Cahns suggest that it is useful to "distinguish between a service function (providing legal services to all persons in need) and a representative function (providing representation to individuals and cases which have broad institutional implications and widespread ramifications)" (Cahn and Cahn, 1964:1346). The "service function," as defined by the Cahns, suggests a client based orientation, while the "representative function" correspond to a cause orientation. The Cahns placed priority on the representative function. Their opinions strongly influenced early debate regarding OEO3 provided legal services (Hannon, 1969) and set the stage for the debate which continues today.
Following the Cahn's lead, Carlin, Howard, and Messinger call for "facilitating the development of legal rights in areas where the law is now vague or biased" (1966:60). Carlin et al. also discuss the protections and benefits "the law could be made to provide" (1966:61). They suggest that attorneys should act to alter the law, and the legal system, in an effort to expand legal protection of the poor. They are endorsing the Cahn's suggestion that poverty lawyers should develop skills other than those needed to simply serve the individual client's needs. In contrast to the tone of criticism since 1980, early debate was often dominated by those who wanted OEO legal services to move away from client, and toward cause, based litigation. Hannon, citing the Cahns, suggests that the "distinction between kinds of cases lies at the heart of the current (1969) contests for control of the legal services offices" (Hannon 1969:237). The Cahns had cut to the heart of a debate which continues more than 30 years later.
LSC critics are convinced that those who work in LSC funded law offices are politically liberal and use their positions to advance progressing social change through a strong reliance on cause oriented litigation. In an effort to assess this assumption it may be interesting to consider why an individual would chose a career in legal services. A general assumption is that public interest lawyers are likely to consider the possibility of law as a reform tool. This assumption, which may or may not be correct, is based on ideas regarding the unique nature of public interest law. A given individual may choose to practice public interest law in the desire to use the law to make social change. This individual will be more likely to consider the broader implications of each case in which he or she becomes involved. On the other hand, it is possible that the individual chose public interest law in a desire to help individuals, without consideration of broader social impact. Or perhaps the goal was the help a certain class of clients, without a great deal of thought regarding the legal strategies that might best serve the needs of this client population.
An issue related to assumptions regarding reform oriented public interest lawyers is the suggestion that these lawyers have a predictable, left leaning, social change agenda. This agenda is presumed to motivate the attorney to consider the broader implications of a case. For example, do public interest lawyers prefer clients with social change agendas? Must the lawyer agree with that agenda? Do lawyers seek to advance their own social change agendas through the selection of clients? Do public interest lawyers adequately inform their clients of choices, and the implications of those choices, or is their role more paternalistic? These questions are applicable to public interest lawyers in ways that are not necessarily comparable to corporate attorneys. The corporate lawyer is, in most cases, working for a powerful client with the resources necessary to dictate the direction of the attorney's efforts. In contrast, the public interest lawyer, especially within the LSC, is working for clients with very little political or economic power.
DiLorenzo suggests that since LSC attorneys do not rely on the poor for funding, they are "more accountable to their own political activities than to the legal needs of the poor" (1988:200). He argues that LSC attorneys, who have more power than their clients, will take advantage of that power imbalance in an effort to assert their own political agenda. The power issue is not limited to the role of the attorney. LSC clients, being poor, are somewhat powerless. The balance of client or cause litigation is impacted to the extent that groups on either side of an issue have equal access to all the tools available in an effort to impact public policy. Historically, this balance has not existed. The poor are typically excluded from courtroom based forms of policy formation, especially if forced to finance cause based litigation without adequate financial resources. Public interest lawyers play an important role in our society, yet they are often faced with structural issues that limit their effectiveness. Galanter (1975) discusses the skills and motivations of those who litigate regularly. The repeat players are able to structure the process in ways that disadvantage those with fewer legal experiences. Public interest lawyers, especially if prevented from engaging in cause oriented litigation, are unable to address the structural issues that limit their effectiveness. The opportunity to become repeat players, especially when compared to corporate entities, is very limited among the population served by LSC attorneys.
Many lawyers work for the status quo. They are often employed by big business and individuals who control great amounts of power and wealth (Kennedy, 1983). Those who want justice must be able to pay a price, but in a free society it is accepted that the price should not be prohibitive. The idea that legal representation is important to those who are facing a legal battle with a much stronger foe has led to an acceptance that individuals in criminal cases are entitled to legal representation (Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335). This constitutional protection applies only in criminal cases, and only in certain situations. State provision of civil legal services is more complicated, and far less available.
The historical role of public interest law is to speak for the powerless, either as advocates for individuals or in broader reform oriented cases intent on changing the laws and/or structure of our society. If the law's role is to create and interpret rules in our society, the role of public interest law is to provide for the legal needs of those who have fallen through the cracks. Most Americans, even those opposed to the LSC, are likely to agree with this definition of the role of public interest law. However, there is less agreement that the role of public interest lawyers includes efforts to fill in the cracks. In effect, the support for federally funded legal services to the poor is dependent on how we define the role of public interest lawyers.
Why Choose a Career in Public Interest Law?
In an effort to understand issues regarding the political orientation of public interest attorneys, it is important to consider their motivations for building careers legal services. There have been several efforts to understand why an individual would choose public interest law. Another issue, perhaps more helpful, is the attempt to understand how certain individuals are able to maintain public interest aspirations in an atmosphere that is less than supportive. Several of these efforts focus on the law school experience. The culture of the legal profession, including hierarchy and status, is another common theme. Each of these issues was discussed with the attorneys. Their comments are included below.
The culture of the legal profession includes a great deal of hierarchy. There is a clear stratification of power, prestige, and wealth within the profession as well as between lawyers and others in our society. Factors which determine status include the background characteristics of lawyers, the types of clients they serve, their level of income, and their conformity with the code of ethics. According to Kidder (1983) these factors are all intermingled in a stable system of status differentiation. Laumann and Heinz (1977) report that the best determinant of the prestige ranking of a lawyer is the status of clients served by a specialty. According to this theory, the stratification level of the bar is a predictable consequence of class conflicts in society as a whole. Big business nurtures a class of legal specialists whose skills are totally dedicated to solving corporate problems. In contrast to these high powered corporate attorneys, the lawyers who serve the less powerful clients have much lower professional status. Following the logic that professional status springs from the status of the clients, the way to achieve status under this system is to represent high status clients. Since these high status clients demand the best lawyers, less capable lawyers are unable to rise through the layers of stratification and are left behind to handle the problems of the poor. While this may not be the case, the culture of the legal profession seems colored by this thinking.
Attorneys interviewed for this research were aware of differing status levels within the profession. None of them seemed to be interested in this issue. None were motivated to move away from public interest law in search of more prestigious position. This may be a recruitment related issue in that those who were motivated away from public interest law are not working in legal services, while those I spoke with had a strong commitment to public interest law. For example, in several cases the attorneys interviewed for this research chose to practice public interest law before entering law school. In other cases, experiences during or after law school motivated the individual to choose a career in legal services. Few even considered, or are willing to presently consider, positions in private law firms.
Thomas Allen, of Summit Legal Services, chose public interest law after learning about legal services in law school. Public interest law was not an area he considered when he entered law school. Allen reports that he "without question fell into it." He enjoyed his experiences with legal services and learned that legal services would be a good thing for him because he would get his own case load rather than "doing anyone else's grunt work." Allen had an opportunity to join the family law practice, but "chose location over practice." He reports that he started with legal services he realized that he was also willing to "chose lifestyle over money" (Allen, 1994). A similar statement was made by Sandra Bowen who talked about her daughter's high powered banking job, which she left because she didn't enjoy her work (Bowen, 1994).
Sandra Bowen, Andrew Collins, and Ryan Fuller each went to law school intending to become public interest lawyers. Each felt pressure to move toward private practice, yet never really considered that as a viable option. Jana Emerson and Laura Green, like Thomas Allen, chose public interest law as a result of law school experiences. Jana Emerson reported that she really wanted a legal services job after law school. She "wanted real people as clients." Emerson realized that other forms of legal work, such as the environmental work she planned to do as she entered law school, were also important, but she wanted people as clients (Emerson, 1994). Later in our talk Ms. Emerson, in reaction to a question about whether she could ever practice corporate law, said that she "couldn't imagine what it would be like to come to work every day and not care about the clients that I am representing. I think the people in corporate offices represent nice people from corporations who come in, um and they might be friendly with them, but I can't imagine what it would be like to go home at the end of the day and not feel like you really did something for somebody" (Emerson, 1994). Similarly, Andrew Collins said that he never considered a Wall Street type position since he believes that "we have a responsibility to give back based on what we're given" (Collins, 1994).
Other attorneys also discussed the possibility of working in private firms. This option did not appeal to them. The only exception was Thomas Allen, who, believing that he was in line for a layoff, admitted that he would have to consider all options. This was not an option he embraced, but knew he may be forced in this direction knowing that although he was "concerned with the public good . . . I have to keep my head above water as well" (Allen, 1995). None of the other interviews turned to the "what if this was the only option" issue, and no other attorneys acknowledged that private practice, at least not in large corporate firms, was an option. I think it is safe to say, even for those who wonder out loud about their options, that each of these individuals would take significant steps to reduce the possibility that they would have to choose what many believe are very prestigious jobs in large corporate law firms.
Issues of culture within the profession are directly related to the law school experience. It becomes obvious to many law students that the big winners of the "law school game" are those individuals who attain jobs in large law firms. One way to redefine your goals as a law student, and eventually as a lawyer, is to redefine the criteria by which success is measured. Each of the attorneys interviewed for this research has successfully accomplished this task. In many cases, redefinition of success criteria is not particularly difficult for an individual to do, yet unless there are wide scale changes in the culture of the legal profession, this decision will always be made in the shadow of a hierarchy within the legal profession. This hierarchy is active in law schools (Kennedy, 1983) as well as throughout the profession and in society as a whole.
If individuals move toward corporate law, rather than legal services, they may be making this choice based on a perception of the role of law as a client or cause oriented mechanism. One explanation for choosing either a client or cause oriented role is found in research regarding legal education. This research has examined changes in law student attitudes as the result of the law school experience. Rathjen (1976) reports that third year law students were less likely than first year students to think of themselves as reformers, civil libertarians, or group advocates. Third year students were more likely to see themselves as advocates for individual clients. Schwartz (1985) studied the attitudes of first year students during orientation and again seven months later. Significantly smaller percentages anticipated working for social change. In addition, the preference for working for the defense of civil liberties, civil rights, and the rights of workers declined from fifty seven to forty six percent after seven months of law school. Scheingold (1974) asserts that legal training encourages students to see the lawyer's role in terms of "narrow, technical, legalistic expertise that precludes concern with broad social and political issues" (p.162). It is also argued that legal training can impart the belief that a lawyer should protect the interest of individual clients to the exclusion of trying to reform and improve society (Stover, 1982).
Interviews with LSC-funded attorneys yielded interesting information on the topic of legal education. It appears that legal education can create, as well as divert, potential public interest attorneys. Many of these attorneys were first introduced to public interest law while in law school. Others, entering law school with public interest aspirations, felt pressured to move in other directions, although the pressure differed depending on where the individual went to law school. Sandra Bowen, who attended Howard University, reported that she felt supported in her public interest aspirations. She thought this was due, in part, to her perception that "a huge percentage of people who go to Howard expect to not make any money at the law" (Bowen, 1994). In contrast, Jana Emerson, who attended law school at Columbia, was shocked to learn that so many people made career decisions based on how much money they can make (Emerson, 1994). Emerson, and others, reported that they were part of a group of friends, sometimes quite small, that supported each others public interest career plans. This support allowed them to stay focused on their goals.
One of the most important law schools experiences was participation in clinical legal education. The majority of attorneys reported that they had worked in law school sponsored clinics or were directed to internships by the clinic directors. In each case there appeared to be a "try it, you'll like it" effect as a result of close interaction with legal services clients, attorneys, and organizations. Several attorneys discussed the role that law school professors, often those involved with law school clinics, played in encouraging them to consider working in legal services. In contrast, Andrew Collins talked about a professor who actively attempted to steer him away from legal services (Collins, 1994).
Logically, it would seem that law school experiences may discourage individuals with the potential to become legal services attorneys. As Rathjen, Scheingold, Stover and others suggest, the content of legal education may also serve to push individuals toward a client orientation. As we see below, the cause oriented lawyer may not be dominant, but is alive and well among the attorneys interviewed for this research. It is clear from speaking with this group of attorneys that this purported law school effect may be felt, but does not necessarily sway all law students toward client oriented corporate law. Individual orientations, commitment to a certain path, the type of law school, and the support of faculty and like minded law students have each been active in allowing this group to maintain their public interest aspirations.
The results of each round of interviews are discussed below. It is logical to organize the information in the order in which it was collected. The following discussion first looks at information collected in the first round of interviews. We then turn to subsequent rounds. A broader discussion, focusing on the goals for this research, follow the presentation of the results of each round on interviews.
The first round of interviews took place during a period of relative calm. Many of the attorneys had been with the LSC during the Reagan years. They had learned from this experience and were prepared to move toward the future. The general feeling was that things were going as well as could be expected, given funding that was far short of that necessary to address the legal needs of those the client population (Spangenberg, 1993). While the lack of funding was an acknowledged problem, many in these offices remembered the efforts of Ronald Reagan and expressed relief that the Reagan years were over. The attorneys seemed comfortable with the idea that funding would most likely increase over the next few years.
Reagan's effort to kill the LSC was a major issue for discussion during round one, in spite of the fact that the interviews took place 14 years after he was elected. Several attorneys commented on factors that resulted in the survival of the LSC, in spite of Reagan's efforts. Others discussed the motivations for trying to limit the LSC. The attorneys also discussed the stress they felt as LSC-funded attorneys in the 1980's. The Reagan years played a major role in defining the LSC, the job duties of LSC-funded attorneys, and the context in which LSC-funded attorneys worked in 1994. His efforts to kill the LSC were, up to this point, the most difficult events ever faced by the LSC as a whole. Although he was no longer the President, Reagan's legacy remained, even though the LSC now had a friend in the White House.
Sandra Bowen, who has a knack for finding silver linings, said that "Reagan was the best thing that ever happened to us" (Bowen, 1994). "Today the money from the federal government is probably less than 40 percent, less than 35 percent of our budget, and for that we have to thank Mr. Reagan because the 80's forced us to look elsewhere for funding, and we did, and we got money elsewhere" (Bowen, 1994). My sense, immediately following the first round of interviews, was that these attorneys were quite confident about the future of the LSC. They thought they had taken the critics' best shot, and lived to fight another day.
Ideologically Liberal Attorneys?
Although individual political ideology was not always discussed in the interviews, after getting to know these individuals, it is clear that most individuals would be placed on the liberal end of a spectrum of ideology. If "liberal" is defined as favoring political reforms that challenge the status quo, then each of the attorneys would be seen as a liberal. If "liberal" refers to "Democrat," it is safe to say that the opinions of these attorneys run closer to that of the Democratic than Republican Party. Only one of the eight attorneys reported that he had conservative political opinions. Thomas Allen, the lone conservative, agreed that most legal services attorneys are somewhat liberal. He acknowledged that he occasionally gets teased, in a good natured way, about his conservative attitudes. However, he felt that his conservatism could be seen as an asset since "when I'm discussing cases or offer a settlement with private attorneys who have conservative Republican perspectives, I can empathize or sympathize with their situation, but at the same time represent my client. And when they discuss cases with me, they don't think ‘oh here comes another bleeding heart liberal here to suck me dry'" (Allen, 1994).
Lance Henson directly discussed ideological issues, saying that attorneys "come to legal services because they want to use their legal skills in a manner to help people. They are not ideological driven. If they are driven by anything, it is an outlook with respect to . . . using their skills so that they are helping. They see their role here to help people, not to be grinding any ideological axes or ideological agendas. Basically, these legal services lawyers . . . care about people and they care about inequality in society. They are intensely concerned about injustice in the society. They . . . see that they can put their legal skills to use with respect to reducing inequality and injustice . . . . That's what legal services is all about. If these [attorneys] are perceived by some people as ideological left-wingers with agendas, so be it. These are people who care about people, care about justice, care about discrimination, care about inequality and are here to work on those problems" (Henson, 1995).
Using Law to Force Social Change?
These attorneys appear to favor structured incremental change, within the system, to extreme change related to social structure. This issue is related to the critics' assertion that LSC attorneys use the law to alter social or political structure. In particular, LSC attorneys have been accused of being "social engineers." While each attorney had strong empathy for the poor, and a strong belief that our system is full of inequality, none appeared to believe that all inequality could be addressed through legal challenge.
Ryan Fuller talked about the critics accusing legal services of "running out and being social engineers, whatever, I used to laugh at that because . . . but of course you know, the answer was no, we just represent our clients" (Collins, 1994). Andrew Collins also reacted to the often raised "social engineer" label. He talked about reviewing social science and other literature regarding systemic social problems that impact his clients. He felt that if certain problems could be identified, both through literature review and knowledge of the local client population, it was important to take steps to alleviate those problems. As Collins put it, "if that's social engineering, than that's what it is. I view it as no different from what other lawyers do" (Collins, 1994). Collins believed that his "responsibility as legal services lawyer is to make us irrelevant. I mean I don't believe that that's really achievable, but in the end I believe that we have to always be about trying to have systems that deliver a just result to low income people so that they don't need lawyers all the time" (Collins, 1994).
Sandra Bowen also expressed reservations about the use of law to achieve wide scale social change. She was committed to progressive social change. As she put it, "I guess my commitment was to be a change agent before I decided that law was the way I was going to do it" (Bowen, 1994). When asked whether she had concluded that law was the way to make change, she stated that the law, as a change agent, had not met her expectations. "I think that we think that we can have an effect upon the systems in this country to a much greater extent than we can. . . . I'm just not sure I believe anymore that that's the way things change. . . . We're trying to change the system, but personally I'm not sure that's, you know it changes the system, but it doesn't change things. We still have poor people. So I'm not sure that's the way to do it" (Bowen, 1994). Ms. Bowen had concluded that change could be achieved through having as much impact as possible on "each single, individual person that you come into contact with. . . . I mean I look back over the changes that have taken place since the 1960s, nothing's changed. When I think of the individual people that I have had contact with in their lives, some of those lives have completely changed. That will make a difference forever, it will make a difference in their children, it will make a difference in people that they have contact with in their life. You used to think that was terrible way to do anything, it would take you forever to change every singe human being in the world, well maybe so, but in my old age, I now think that's perhaps that is in fact the way to do things. . . . You see what we help people with is not what is going to change the world. We help people with their legal problems, and that needs to be done, just like the street needs to be swept that but is not what is going to change society" (Bowen, 1994).
Lance Henson talked about past success in the use of law as a mechanism for change, although he believed that the law was no longer an effective tool for social change. "If there is an institution in our country with bedrock foundation pieces against change, it's the legal system. The very nature of the legal system is that precedent dictates what we do in the future. Decisions of the past give us guidance, they dictate what the decisions in the future will be. Any lawyer who has a brain knows that you don't use the legal institution as a mechanism for social change. There may have been some people in the legal services in the 60's who thought that way, and initially there were some tremendous successes because the concepts of equal protection and due process with respect to poor people had not been applied in the 60's. There were phenomenal changes . . . and there were some lawyers who thought this was a way to generate significant social change . . . . But those of us who have been around a long time know that there are incredible limits to efforts to generate social reform" (Henson, 1995).
When examined at a local level, the LSC does not appear to be a "left-wing group intent on forcing social change through legal challenge." While it appears that most of the attorneys interviewed in the Summit and Gore offices can be defined as politically liberal, there is little evidence that their political ideology translates to an effort to force certain types of legal change. In fact, it appears that several of the attorneys question the efficacy of such efforts. In short, there appears to be an individual preference toward liberal or progressive causes. In addition, while the organizational culture is typified by liberal thought, there is little evidence that this ideology motivates the attorneys to use the law as a tool for social change.
Most Satisfying Case?
I asked each attorney to tell me about their most satisfying case. In several instances the individual reported that it was difficult to think of just one. I suggested that they tell me about one that they most remembered. Once the case was discussed, I would point out that the case that first came to mind was an impact (or individual) case. I then asked for a case of the other type. The attorneys seemed to remember cases for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the first case that came to mind was simply the most recent case. At other times, the attorney remembered his or her first case. At times, it was clear that this might not be an effective question, as the attorney told me about clients, rather than cases.
Thomas Allen first discussed domestic violence divorces, saying that "they're satisfying in a way, but they are also sad because even when you're in a divorce, even when the case is resolved, it's tragic. I mean there's something good coming out of it, we're hoping someone is not getting hurt anymore, but we're talking about breaking up a relationship and breaking up a family" (Allen, 1994). He then moved to housing cases, saying that he found the housing ones were more satisfying. Mr. Allen talked about recent cases in which his representation was difficult because his clients did not speak English, the clients were either Spanish speaking or deaf. He talked about one recent case. "It was just a couple of weeks ago. A client came in and was deaf, had been served an eviction petition before court for five month nonpayment of rent, totaling about, I don't know, about $1000" (Allen, 1994). The tenant did not know about the rent due because the housing authority had reduced their share of the tenant's rent because the tenant had an income increase. Allen argued to the housing authority that the notice to this tenant was insufficient because it was a simple written notice sentence delivered to a deaf tenant who reads American sign language and does not read English. He suggested to the housing authority that the notices they were providing their deaf tenants were insufficient. The housing authority retracted the notice, provided appropriate notice, and the rent was paid. Allen reported that this case, an individual representation, "was satisfying not only in that did it assist this client, but I think it made them face a systemic issue that has to affect a lot of their tenants . . . something I don't think they were willing to face earlier in this particular situation" (Allen, 1994, 8).
Although satisfied with the result for his client, Allen also felt satisfaction with the idea that perhaps this case would motivate the housing authority to modify procedures to the extent that similarly situated individuals, although not a part of this action, would be impacted by this case. When asked if this case would have been more satisfying if the housing authority had immediately agreed to expand the policy to cover this entire population, Allen stated that "it would have, however, . . . I may have been doing a disservice to my client for the betterment of the good and that I did not have the authority to do. My representation was not a class action. I wasn't representing a group of individuals. I was representing an individual tenant client and therefore didn't feel I had the authority to sacrifice what was in his best interests for the interest of all" (Allen, 1994). This statement points out an issue which was raised by many of the attorneys. Regardless of their beliefs or motivations, the case belongs to the client. This runs contrary to suggestions that LSC-funded attorneys use their clients to advance issues that are endorsed by the attorney, but may run contrary to the needs of the client.
When asked about her most satisfying case, Sandra Bowen replied that it was hard to focus on just one, "because there are cases that you have that are like, gotcha cases, where there's a legal issue that is intriguing and maybe novel or maybe just no one's ever enforced it or something like that. And I don't know, there's just a wonderful sense of, when you have a case like that and you're able to make the law do what it's supposed to do. And then there are other cases where what you're doing maybe very mundane in terms of your practice and your tools, but it has such an impact on the lives of your client that it reminds you that's the reason you do this. So, that's hard" (Bowen, 1994). Bowen remembered one case that was especially satisfying. Her client had been in jail and left while on work release. A warrant was issued and she was arrested. The client was charged with a work release violation, which "would mean was that she was sent back to prison, she wasn't eligible for work release for another three and a half years, it would affect her parole if she came up for parole every year, and she had kids whom she never saw" (Bowen, 1994). The officials in this jurisdiction were not following the statute, which required the court to make determinations regarding this work release program. "Well, no one was ever released by the court into the work release program. The probation department released people into the work release program. . . . , apparently no one ever read the statute. It says the court shall da da da da. So you know, I filed a motion to dismiss the charges because she wasn't on work release . . . they didn't have any authority to put her on work release. It was great, they had to wipe it off. She went back to jail, but they couldn't charge her with a work release violation, they couldn't put it on her record, and they couldn't use it to keep her from parole" (Bowen, 1994). To Bowen, this case was important because her client wanted to get back to her kids, while "at the same time it's one of those gotcha situations, where, ‘wait a minute this has been going on for years, didn't anybody ever read the statute.' Those are always fun to me, fun situations where you use the tools of your craft, you read the statute" (Bowen, 1994). Although Ms. Bowen most enjoyed cases where she was able to use her lawyering skills to force a government agency to follow statutory requirements, she also talked about the satisfaction achieved from "the other cases where you're just doing your normal work, and not doing anything fancy as a lawyer, but what you do just has an incredible impact on things" (Bowen, 1994).
Andrew Collins reported that it was impossible for him to narrow in on a single case that was most satisfying. He thought of a case, but as he put it, he would provide an example of one that is very satisfying "if all you need is an example" (Collins, 1994). Mr. Collins was not trying to be difficult. In reality, he was being honest in his opinion that many of the cases he has been involved with have been satisfying. In reality, for these attorneys a quick single case example was the exception rather than the rule. The case Mr. Collins discussed was a large class action suit which took so many years that the class was somewhat past the point where the case seemed like a victory to the clients. Collins reported that this case was very nice, but "not a lot more satisfying than helping some woman in a nursing home make sure that she gets to stay in the nursing home or some person who's in the community who doesn't want to go in the nursing home to get to stay in the community, and if you look at things as I do from a client perspective, rather than from the lawyer's perspective, I'm constantly reminded by looking at these clients satisfaction questionnaires that by and large, our most satisfied clients are the ones whose problems were solved with a telephone call, not two trips to the U.S. Court of Appeals. So from the client perspective, the most valuable services we perform are those that we perform the quickest and easiest" (Collins, 1994). Collins realized that client satisfaction might be different from attorney satisfaction. This acknowledgment was also apparent as he talked about it being "very hard for the lawyers to get their head around that, because they view this trip to the Circuit as the highest use of their art. But that's not how the clients look at it and invariably you will see the clients who are the happiest are the ones who didn't require litigation" (Collins, 1994).
Collins talked about removing himself from the role of advocate, which he acknowledged as impossible, but if he defined himself strictly as a lawyer, the impact cases would be more rewarding. A large class action victory is satisfying when the attorney is able to stand back, look at the numbers, and say "look how much money went into the poor community because you did that. That's satisfying, but nobody comes up to shake your hand and say ‘I won my case, I would have lost it under the old rules, you're real swell.' Whereas, when you do an individual problem for an individual person who's about to lose their house, you know you get sweet little notes and prayers and all that stuff and that's, for most of us, as human beings, a very satisfying thing and that's why for me it's so difficult to say well, this is the most satisfying because all of them are satisfying. The big ones, the little ones, the in-between ones are all on their own level satisfying" (Collins, 1994).
Jana Emerson, in contrast, quickly thought of a single most satisfying case. In response to the question about her most satisfying case, her quick reply was "Oh yes, I have one big one. That is my big claim to fame" (Emerson, 1994). Her most satisfying case was a class action lawsuit that challenged a housing authority policy that, in effect, kept certain people out of public housing because they couldn't pass a medical screening. The case challenged the screening process, arguing that the housing authority should be checking to see if people are good tenants rather than inquiring into medical backgrounds. For example, according to Ms. Emerson, an older woman with the hypertension was rejected from housing because a nurse had determined that she didn't take her medications in a timely manner. The class received a very favorable decision and a new set of housing admissions and tenant screening policies was put in place, through negotiations with Ms. Emerson and others. As a result, HUD changed its policy on a national basis, and when Congress set up an advisory task force, they were asked to create guidelines that were similar to those developed as a result of this case (Emerson, 1994). So it wound up serving as precedent to everything that had to do with the admissions area.
I asked Ms. Emerson which was more exciting, winning the case or motivating HUD to change their policies, she replied "it was both, and it wasn't just winning the case. We didn't just win the case, but we got a decision that talked about the rights of people, the disabled people. The first paragraph in the decision talks about in the old days we used to keep people with disabilities in dark attics, now people with disabilities are out in the world, and we are going to treat them properly. I mean it was filled with that sort of language that you don't get that often in a case" (Emerson, 1994). This case was also helpful in regard to Ms. Emerson's career as she was able to develop "a lot of expertise in disability issues, and so I got to meet a lot of people in the disability rights community, and that was exciting too, and I have been working with them since then" (Emerson, 1994). Although this cause oriented case quickly came to mind as her most satisfying case, Emerson, like each attorney, also talked about the satisfaction found with smaller cases. Emerson believed the smaller cases are important, "it is just that they are harder to remember, because they come and go so quickly" (Emerson, 1994). Emerson talked about two cases, each involving a potential eviction from subsidized housing. In one case, a woman, pregnant at the time, failed a housekeeping inspection "because she had dirt under her refrigerator, grease behind her stove, and fly spots in her dining room light, and they refused to settle, and I had a judge who didn't understand the issues" (Emerson, 1994). Another case, still in progress, involved an eviction notice sent to a man who violated housing authority rules by playing catch with his son in front of the house. As Emerson put it, "over my dead body is some family being evicted from their home because they were playing catch with their son. They were being too noisy while they were playing catch, it was on a Saturday afternoon at 4:00. Yeah, if I win that -- that will be satisfying" (Emerson, 1994).
Ryan Fuller, who like Andrew Collins, held the position of litigation director, was expected to favor cause oriented cases as he remembered his most satisfying case. Like the others, it was difficult for him to think of just one. The case he remembered was one of his first cases, fresh out of law school, in which he litigated a class action suit on behalf of a class of prisoners. It was a five year process, ending in a settlement which closed down an older jail and improved the conditions for inmates. This case, to Fuller, "was literally a concrete change, something you could see, the building itself was changed. The one that was closed down was over one hundred years old. That was satisfying. . . . It was a long lasting and irreversible kind of benefit. That old jail would never ever be opened again, it was never possible for that to happen. It was exhilarating as a lawyer" (Fuller, 1994). He also talked about other cases that "aren't that big. A lot of cases are day to day, where you help somebody get into a house, just everyday benefits" (Fuller, 1994). As he mentioned the everyday cases, Fuller moved, mid-sentence, to another impact case. In this case, a resolution was negotiated with a federal judge, "totally in our favor. . . . It had a major impact in this area . . . at times it doesn't seem like you are getting anywhere, but it was very gratifying to have that come through and have the judge so definitely in our favor" (Fuller, 1994).
Laura Green discussed both client and cause oriented representation. The cases that she discussed as most satisfying were of the individual representation variety. She was currently involved in a cause oriented case which had been going on for several years with no end in sight. This case appeared to be somewhat unsatisfying, in part because it was going on forever, requiring a lot of work, and the reward, if any, was not yet in sight. The case she first mentioned as most satisfying involved a woman in an adjacent county who was diagnosed as mentally ill. She was divorced and her husband had custody of the kids. The husband was attempting to remove all visitation, because of her diagnosis, and prevent her from seeing her kids unless she was supervised by either him or his mother. Green reported that, while in trial, she called the husband in "as a witness and I'd like to think I made him look stupid, but I really think he did it all by himself. The judge gave the decision that day and said [the mother] could have unsupervised visitation every other weekend" (Green, 1994). Green reported that this victory was especially rewarding because it came so quick. It was also satisfying in that the case "was also like busting a myth about mental illness, because she's clearly a safe parent and certainly capable of doing unsupervised weekends visitation" (Green, 1994). The case was also satisfying for personal reasons since the case was won in spite of the fact that the husband "had more money so he had hired this big shot attorney" (Green 1994).
Conclusion - Round One
The critics' assumption that LSC attorneys are using their clients to advance ideologically liberal social change is not supported by the data. The reality is that these attorneys are so busy with their client oriented caseload that they are not able to move toward a higher concentration of cause oriented litigation. This would be the case even if the attorneys were ideologically motivated to engage in a greater percentage of cause oriented litigation, which does not appear to be the case. The motivation to move toward cause oriented work is based on the idea, developed through experience in the LSC-funded office, that for some problems it makes more sense, from a cost benefit standpoint, to address the issues of a large number of clients with one effort. Although this single effort may require a large chunk of institutional resources, in the long run, if the attorneys can make this problem go away for good, fewer clients will show up in the office for individual representation on this issue.
The critics' contention that LSC attorneys use the law for social change is challenged by the fact that the attorneys interviewed for this research have concluded that the law is not a very effective tool for this purpose. The attorneys discuss the law as a mechanism to motivate government agencies, landlords, school districts, and others to do something, often their jobs, on behalf of the LSC client. These attorneys see the law as a tool for motivating individuals, rather than as an effective tool for changing society. This might be expected, since the attorneys included in this research were engaged in very "hands on" activity. The critics, making their points from afar, have missed the true nature of LSC-funded work.
Many of the stories told by the attorneys indicated the strength of cause oriented litigation. The examples they provided were not anti-business, left-wing, or radical in any way. Instead, the examples described cost effective interventions that made a big difference in the lives of their clients. In some cases the interventions, in addition to providing relief for the client, also had an impact on the behavior of government agencies. One might ask, in relation to several of these examples, how the critics could find fault in the attorney's actions on behalf of his or her client.
While in most cases the attorneys first discussed cause oriented cases, it would not be accurate to assume that this indicates a clear individual preference for cause oriented litigation. There is no evidence in these stories to indicate an organizational bias in favor of cause oriented cases. Rather than indicate an ideological bias, in most cases these stories tell of the attorney's desire to use their lawyering skills. It appears that the cause oriented cases may be a strong motivator for these attorneys. However, their daily activity is typified by individual representation. Fortunately, the attorneys also find these cases to be rewarding. The rewards of individual cases are more immediate, more tangible, and more frequent.
Of course, these attorneys have opinions about their work. Many of these opinions run counter to those offered by LSC critics. While many attorneys endorse the need for cause lawyering, this preference is more utilitarian than ideological. They see reasons, related to the cost effectiveness of their activity, for engaging in cause oriented litigation. These attorneys also long for "lawyering." Day to day activity, for many of these attorneys, does not require legal education. These are intelligent individuals, capable attorneys, and have a great deal of compassion for their clients. They have made significant investments in an effort to develop skills that can be used to address the needs of their clients. If LSC critics further limit the opportunity to use these skills, the attorneys may determine that it is in their best interest, as well as the best interest of their clients, for the attorneys to use their skills in different ways.
The "Republican Revolution," which was in full swing while the second round of interviews took place, created an interesting research opportunity. It was clear that life in a LSC-funded law office was going to be very different once the conservative agenda became active. The context in which these interviews took place was very different from that experienced 18 months earlier. The organizations were under extreme stress in the Fall of 1995. Significant funding cuts were likely. It was not clear how deep these cuts would be, but the offices were bracing for as much as a 50 percent funding reduction. During the first round the attorneys were somewhat confident of the future of the LSC. They believed that Ronald Reagan had failed to kill the LSC, and that they had won the battle. Little did they know, but the Reagan legacy was about to return, only this time, critics had learned from past failures.
Lance Henson, an LSC-funded attorney who had been active with the LSC during the Reagan years, believed that Reagan's efforts were fairly inept, especially when compared to the events that were occurring during the second round of interviews. Henson said that "in the 1980's Reagan's people had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of how legal services worked. They operationally did not have the knowledge to bring about what they wanted to accomplish" (Henson, 1995). However, Henson felt that the conservatives had learned a lot about the LSC since then. Many LSC critics had worked with the Reagan administration long enough "to know the detailed operation of the Corporation and with that knowledge they know the most effective ways to restrict the Corporation" (Henson, 1995). Perhaps Reagan was successful to the extent that the LSC did not grow to the size it may have without his efforts. He stunted the growth of the LSC, which gave critics the time to develop clearer plans to scuttle the Corporation. Ryan Fuller talked about the organization of LSC critics in Congress, in effect the situation was worse than in the 1980's because now "we have a weak Democrat in the White House and an extremely organized, extremist radical right wing group in Congress. They are focused, they intend on getting rid of us" (Fuller 1995).
The atmosphere in each of these offices was very different from that experienced eighteen months earlier. The organizations, and the attorneys, were under a great deal of stress. Uncertainty regarding funding, case restrictions, and the impending individual and organizational reactions to these issues contributed to this stress. Reactions to the rapidly changing events are discussed below, including an examination of dilemmas faced by the attorneys, the organizations, and their clients.
Crisis in Legal Services
There was clearly a sense of crisis during the second round. 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 was active during the Reagan years. Individual morale was very low, which, given the degree of uncertainty, was to be expected. In every case, commitment to the client population remained strong. However, these attorneys were beginning to feel powerless. The organizations, equally committed, were also struggling with the changes. Problems faced by the individual, the organization, and the clients were intertwined.
During the second round of interviews, morale had taken a significant turn for the worse. Depending on your point of view, political events in late 1995 were either very positive or very negative. To those employed in these organizations, political events had taken a horrible turn for the worse. There was a distinct difference in the morale of these individuals when compared to when we met a year earlier. Ryan Fuller specifically discussed the morale of his coworkers. He believed each attorney was coping with the problems in different ways. Responses ranged from "ignoring it and working from day to day, to extremely depressed to looking for another job. All those things affect the office. Things happened so fast that people haven't really absorbed it, when we start with the first layoffs, we will see more signs of stress" (Fuller, 1995).
The attorneys were suddenly faced with serious personal and professional issues. Several 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. Some felt that seniority would be the basis for the cuts. Thomas Allen, with just four years seniority, believed he could be one of the first to go. Others felt that jobs would be cut in a way that allowed the office to meet the new demands created by changes in the LSC. Jana Emerson believed changes would be dependent on "what areas of expertise will we need in the new reinvented legal services" (Emerson, 1995). Emerson 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" (Emerson, 1995).
While the attorneys were concerned about whether they would have jobs, they were also concerned about whether their jobs would change so much that they would not be interested in staying with the organization. Ryan Fuller was concerned about changes in his role, saying that "really, from my point of view, I have sat here and wondered what, I mean you can't litigate? We can only do divorces and routine hearings? Goodbye and good luck" (Fuller, 1995). Jana Emerson replied that if all she was doing was "putting Band-Aids on my client's problems instead of doing surgery or finding a cure, that would definitely be a disincentive" to staying in this position (Emerson, 1995).
These attorneys were looking forward, wondering whether they would stay with these organizations. Some also looked back, discussing 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 a job away from the public interest field. Interestingly, this was Thomas Allen, the lone conservative. Each hoped to continue helping the same client population, although they were not sure how to best accomplish this outside their current positions.
Without exception, all attorneys were very concerned about the future of their client population. Thomas Allen 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. Allen said that the most frequent question he gets from clients is "if you can't help me, who can?" Allen's reply to the clients, when he cannot hep them, is that "no one is going to help you, there is a gap in the system" (Allen, 1995).
Sandra Bowen 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" (Bowen, 1995). Bowen continues, saying 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" (Bowen, 1995).
An interesting issue was raised by a number of attorneys. Ryan Fuller pointed out that "from a philosophical standpoint, people out there are better off having lawyers to handle their disputes" (Fuller, 1995). Fuller 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" (Fuller, 1995). Fuller talked about "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 . . . not only are we more stressed out, we are dealing with clients who are more stressed out" (Fuller, 1995). Sandra Bowen also 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" (Bowen, 1995). Bowen was concerned 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" (Bowen, 1995). According to Bowen, 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" (Bowen, 1995). For these attorneys, the external pressure from Congress caused them to reevaluate the LSC, leave, or face personal dilemmas.
Conclusion - Round Two
The roles of LSC-funded attorneys, and the mission of LSC-funded law offices, are changing. New organizations, with very different missions, are likely to form as a result of actions in the U.S. Congress. Legal Services lawyers are faced with new limitations on their professional efforts. Andrew Collins 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" (Collins, 1994). 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.
In 1996, criticism of the LSC, coupled with a Republican majority in the United States Congress, resulted in severe funding cuts. Funding was cut by a third to $278 million. Critics in Congress hoped to "zero out" the LSC by 1998. Along with funding cuts, significant restrictions were 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 1996 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. One of the most significant restriction on the LSC is related to outside funding sources. Regardless of where the funding for such cases originates, legal services agencies that accept federal funds cannot 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 is subject to the same restrictions as funds provided by the federal government.
The organizations studied in this research had made many important decisions in anticipation of this legislation. By the middle of 1997, many changes had occurred. For the LSC, the local organizations, and the individuals employed in these organizations, the crisis had passed. It appeared that Congress had backed down from threats to end the LSC. Funding for 1998 was $283 million, the same as that in 1997. This funding level, while still well below what is needed, indicates a retreat from a 1995 threat to eliminate the LSC within two years. Although the extreme stress found in these organizations during the second round of interviews had subsided, all was not perfect. There were concerns about the future of the organizations as well as the LSC as a whole.
Reaction to Change
Interviews often began with a reminder of the political atmosphere in which previous interviews occurred. I discussed the context in which our previous interviews took place. I told the attorneys that my perception of the first round was that the attorneys, as a group, were feeling calm, hope, and relief. In contrast, the second round was characterized by anxiety, frustration, shock, and uncertainty. I asked the attorneys to characterize the current atmosphere. I also asked the attorneys to imagine where they, and their organizations, would be in five years. Their responses to this question indicated commitment, as well as concern, about the future of these organizations and the clients they serve.
Thomas Allen believed the organization was "back in a period of relative calm. I guess I can only say that in comparison to how it was maybe a year ago. There is still uncertainty, but I guess we feel more calm because things are a lot better than a year ago. . . . We have been working under [LSC] restrictions for nine months now and we are relatively used to those restrictions. . . . I wouldn't say that things are real stable, but just in comparison to how things were, things appear stable" (Allen, 1997).
Laura Green offered a similarly optimistic, yet tentative, observation about the current state of affairs. She replied that "now I would say that we are a little more sure that we are going to be here. But there is uncertainty over how much funding we will get. And whether there will be more restrictions coming down the pipe. But for a while there, I know we were not even sure if we would exist anymore. I don't think we have that feeling. But, money is still a big worry" (Green, 1997). Dennis Davis, executive director of SLS, replied that "the first word that pops to mind is resignation, everyone is sort of resigned to the fact that, here it is again and we just sort of move forward from there" (Davis, 1997). The main problem, according to Davis, was that "we can't do the work on behalf our clients that we think we should be able to do" (Davis, 1997). Each of the three SLS attorneys had moved to a point where they had accepted the changes, perhaps reluctantly, but they had accepted their situation and were moving forward.
Ryan Fuller, who was no longer in the SLS office every day, thought that morale continued to be very low. He believed that his former coworkers did not "have a sense of hope now. I think people are just going along and seeing what is happening" (Fuller, 1997). Fuller talked about the sense of frustration felt as the programs shrink, both in terms of size and in terms of the things that can be done. He believed that the SLS attorneys were "handling it well and they are professionals and they are experienced. They are doing the best they can under the conditions. But, the conditions are just awful" (Fuller, 1997).
Mr. Fuller discussed the hope he now feels as a part of the law school clinic. The law students do not have that frustration, they don't have that history, and it is exciting for them to begin to take cases that can no longer be accepted by SLS. Fuller usually tells the students about the LSC history, how he ended up at the law school, and defines the clinic's purpose so that students "understand what is happening with legal services and happening with poor people generally. Yes, so that is good, and that is exciting and fun" (Fuller, 1997). Like many of the attorneys interviewed in the third round, Fuller was laying a foundation for the future. And like the others, he was doing this work not for himself, but on behalf of efforts to preserve legal services to the poor. Fuller was now fulfilling a role that other attorneys had discussed in relation to their law school experience as he exposed these students to the rewards of public interest lawyering.
Sandra Bowen, the lone GLS attorney in the third round, replied that she would characterize the current situation as "hopeful, exciting, um, you know with a little bit of trepidation" (Bowen 1997). Near the end of our interview Ms. Bowen talked about having "no idea what I'll feel like in three years. But right now, I am completely energized" (Bowen, 1997). Her attitude, when making this statement, reminded me of the sensation felt by thrill seekers who, after narrowly missing an appointment with death, feel excited, energized, and completely alive.
Andrew Collins, who had left GLS to work in the newly formed PILG, knew that morale had suffered in LSC-funded offices, "but on the [PILG] side I think that it's one of a lot of energy about stuff that needs to be done, at the same time, tempered by an understanding of how perilous times are for our clients. The demonization of low income people that has taken place in this country is clearly very scary and it affects decision makers at all levels. . . . I think we need to, as things become more discretionary, get back in touch with that earlier ethic and to understand that the first job we got is to make judges or legislators want to have it come out in our clients way. And then second, to provide them with a credible legal explanation for how to do so" (Collins, 1997).
Like Mr. Collins, Jana Emerson was also wondering where to go from here. She felt that the poverty law, as a whole, was in a "holding pattern. Everybody has come through this. I would say for the last year and a half it's been hard for people to really feel that we are at a new beginning. There is a lot of that sort of survival mentality. Like we just have to survive. I noticed that when I went to the national conference this year and you know, many people said that. At last year's conference, people were still shell shocked" (Emerson, 1997).
Recent Changes - Individual Issues
Each of these attorneys was faced with changes in their activity and responsibilities. In some cases, the attorney had the same responsibilities, although now in a different setting. It was clear that the same job, in a different place, was not the same job.
Missing Old Friends.
Ryan Fuller had been the litigation director at SLS. He was now working in a law clinic at the local law school. "To a certain extent I'm playing that role from here. If there is a reform issue, it still comes to me just like it did when I was there. Because I am the only one who can now pursue that. It's a tremendous loss to me personally, to lose the opportunity to continue to work with the lawyers at legal services. People who have been there anywhere from five to eight years or longer, and I have worked with, and have established a working relationship with. Yeah, that's all lost but as far as that is concerned the only thing to do is to get cases from them now. It is a shame. . . . They can't do the work or it could be a problem for the program. Which is too bad" (Fuller, 1997). Mr. Fuller became cynical about the altered personal relationships as he talked about still being able to talk to his friends. "They haven't prohibited us from talking to each other yet. Maybe that is next" (Fuller, 1997).
The present state of affairs had impacted morale according to Sandra Bowen, who said "if it wasn't for the fact that I had this vision that I really think it's the right vision, and that I really think we are delivering even better services, or have the potential to bring better services, if it wasn't for that my job would be awful. I mean, I hate what I am doing. I hate having to do nothing but fund raising. I hate having to not be able to interact with staff around cases. I hate having to not be able to work with clients and the client community. It is very unsatisfying. Except for this little piece of, you know, beating the enemy. And figuring out a way to provide better services" (Bowen, 1997).
The changes in LSC-funded work took away much of what had been rewarding to these attorneys. "There is a realization that once more, there are more things that we can't do. Um, I think you know it, all of us, I'm certainly not excluding myself, I've been around this for too long to, you know, feel like we can just take a few things in stride. But it's just another one of those bricks that the keep piling on us, weighing us down in terms of what we lawyers can do. You know I always used to say that, even before this, that legal services had to practice with one hand tied behind their back. Now it seems like it is one and a half hands tied behind our backs. So I think that has been very important, . . . you can't help but think that it is a negative message that we are getting. You know, both not valuing the problems that are clients encounter, and not valuing the work that we can and should be doing on behalf of our clients as lawyers. I think that that has weighed on people here an awful lot" (Davis, 1997).
In contrast to the LSC-funded attorneys, Ryan Fuller was in a very different employment context than in the previous visits. He was excited by his new position in the law school as he talked about enjoying the teaching element as well as a sense of something new. "Some students come in and they have kind of a public interest background or an interest in doing that. Others don't, they want to do other things, but, I feel it is very rewarding. [There were] students from different perspectives in my clinic last year and they all were very enthusiastic about the work. I think they all were given a lot of insight to what poor people go through. A lot of them changed their opinions about it, their perceptions were changed. The thing is, they go off and wherever they work they will have a sense of the need to do pro bono work" (Fuller 1997). Mr. Fuller, a strong believer in the potential of cause oriented representation, was encouraged by the fact that he was helping to educate students of the legal needs among the poor and believed that these attorneys would help to address those needs in the future.
Although he was enjoying his new position, when asked what work he would do if he had a choice of any type of legal work, Fuller replied "I guess the most satisfying work I've ever done is litigation director of legal services, without the restrictions. I had the fortunate experience of being able to work in many different areas. Disabilities, welfare, food stamps and housing. To work on the [reform] issues that were, to me, the most interesting. [I was able to work] with a lot of different attorneys, within and outside the program. I think it serves the society in general in a beneficial way. To say that this sector of people no longer has the right to do what they have been doing, to go to court and ask for that kind of relief, is harmful. Not just to them, but to the whole system" (Fuller, 1997).
Andrew Collins, who had been the litigation director at GLS, made a statement very similar to Mr. Fullers's as he referred to his former position as "the ideal job" (Collins, 1997). Jana Emerson, in a similar statement, said that "in some ways I have the job I always wanted, . . . which is to basically do reform and impact work, policy work. So, you know that's a plus" (Emerson, 1997). Emerson reported that her job was "more satisfying in different ways. I have less client contact, so, when the going gets tough, I have fewer individual people who I can say ‘no matter how bad the rest of the world is, I know I helped Mrs. Jones today.' I miss that. . . . There are days when I really miss going into city court and getting exactly what I want out of a judge, something that in the big picture is a small thing, but at least it's another daily victory. Now I am working on a lot more policy and litigation projects that may not come to fruition for many years. But I like that too" (Emerson, 1997).
I asked Ms. Emerson if she thought she would have been happy staying in the LSC-funded offices of GLS, rather than moving to PILG. "Um, at the time I would have felt lucky to have a job. But I don't think I would have been happy doing it. I think there have been some attorneys over there that have been extraordinary, and creative, and continue to do work that has impact on a lot of people despite the restrictions. But, you know, it is harder to fit that in when you have to do all this number production. So, no, I am very happy where I am" (Emerson, 1997).
The attorneys were asked to speculate on where they, and their organizations would be in five years. Obviously, this was a little hard to predict. And probably not too sensible, considering the very unpredictable five years these individuals had just gone through. Nevertheless, the attorneys gave it a shot. Their responses speak for themselves.
The Organizations in Five Years.
"That is hard to say. I'm not optimistic at this point. I'm not convinced it will be existing in five years at this point. Because, what I am hearing, and I have been following it very closely in the last few months, it's continued efforts to reduce funding. I don't know if it can continue for too much longer. I don't know what other restrictions they can pose, you know. Ah, but the effort to reduce funding continues and the pressure from the right could eliminate the program entirely. The only thing that is going to change that is if we have a different Congress" (Fuller, 1997).
"Oh boy that's tough. Either thriving or nonexistent. I've got no idea. You know, we were all confident that with a Democrat in the office, we would be secure, and that hasn't come to be. It is so hard. I really have no idea, and I guess because there is so much insecurity from year to year. I just don't know" (Allen, 1997).
"I see us having to rely less and less on LSC for funds and seek out more private grants or other government grants such as funding for protection advocacy program or disability advocacy, or we have an AIDS project. All of those are affected by the LSC, but they are not LSC-funded. I know some legal services have talked about slowly getting to the point where they don't need to accept legal services money anymore. They can still do public interest but not be bound by the restrictions. That might be a possibility" (Green, 1997). "My hope would be that at some point, some of the restrictions are lifted . . . I think that would go a long way toward making legal services as viable and healthy as it was four years ago when we had all these great hopes" (Green, 1997).
"Oh boy. Probably going through the same kind of cycle. I think it is never ending. That is the hint that I am getting. And you know, the ironic thing is one of the big issues right now in that the State is working to . . . create permanent State funding of a substantial amount. And that substantial amount, I mean we are setting a goal equal to the amount of money that LSC puts into the state. So, if LSC puts 25 million in, then we would like to see the state match that. I think over the next couple of years the chances look brighter. So, I think maybe in two years we will have a permanent system. We will have a substantial flow coming out of it. I don't know if it will be 25 million or not. It might be. Um, and we will all be very joyous. But I can't help believe that we are going to see problems develop around that. You will get some state legislators that say ‘hey, what Congress did makes a lot of sense. So let's do that with our state money too. We don't like them suing the state department of social services so we are going to restrict them from doing that.' You know, I don't know what it will be, but it seems that you just run into that in cycles. He or she is lurking out there. I could even pick out some names if I had to, of people who would potentially like to do that. Although, I must say that we have had some excellent support in our service area from both our assembly people and our state senators. And, I would include a Senator who is a Republican has been very supportive of us and when we met with him earlier this year he sort of came in and I gave him the big wish list. We want permanent funding and a bunch of it, he looked at me and he said, "God, that makes a lot of sense so you guys don't have to be here with your hands out which has happened every year." I thought my God, you know, this is wonderful. I don't even have to sit here and try to explain why. He immediately understood that" (Davis, 1997).
The Individuals in Five Years.
"Right now I would say odds are that I will be right here. I'm happy here, the office is a good office, I am satisfied with the management of the office, I think the management does as much as they can with a tight budget. I am also personally at a period in my life where I am starting a family and maybe if I was single I wouldn't be so sure that I would be here. I am not going to be job jumping. I am very satisfied in [Summit]. I like the area" (Allen, 1997).
"Um, I find it less likely that I would be here. Just because, not that the restrictions aren't overpowering, but just knowing that two years from now, they might even be worse. Maybe we'll lose the funding from the other projects. I mean, at some point it would not surprise me if the people who give us the money for the advocacy projects would say if we contracted with someone else we could get attorneys fees. They could then do class actions. I think really if that started to happen, I would want to either try to do some of what I do now in private practice, or try to find another public interest job. I feel less sure that I will be here then what [type of work I will do]. Because I do love this, this is what I want to do, um, there's not that many places you can do it in the [Summit] area. On the other hand, maybe that's for the reaction Congress wanted us to have. Not having people see it as a career, but for a couple of years in and out. That way salaries can keep low" (Green, 1997).
"Here, and having a lot of fun doing it. You know, it is more difficult, but it's a lot of fun, and we are doing lots of stuff and making connections that we never had before and as a result of that being able to achieve things for the clients" (Collins, 1997).
Conclusion - Round Three
The 1996 restrictions were too onerous to withstand. These restrictions led to the creation of entirely new organizations. Organizations that were devoted to doing exactly the kind of work the critics sought to limit. If the critics' goal was to stop federally funded cause litigation, their efforts were very successful. If they expected their efforts to end all cause oriented litigation on behalf of the poor, they seriously underestimated the resolve and commitment of the attorneys and organizations who provide these services. The critics, if they had taken a closer look, might have learned that these attorneys and organizations are motivated through mechanisms the critics assumed were active. Their ideology, not to advance left wing issues, but to provide equal access to the law, drives these attorneys and organizations to prevail in the face of the critics' best efforts.
The critics may have underestimated the dedication of attorneys for the poor. Many of these attorneys do not work for material rewards. Their work brings other rewards, many of which can no longer be achieved through work in LSC-funded legal services. Many of these attorneys feel liberated and are beginning to take steps to bring greater satisfaction to their professional lives. There is no doubt that these attorneys will continue their commitment to the client population. Unfortunately, there is also no doubt that the critics will continue their fight as well.
The first goal of this research is to describe LSC work in a limited number of organizations. It is clear that these organizations are overworked, underfunded, and expected to do far more than possible with the resources at their disposal. However, the most recent reduction in resources does not seem to have caused any of these attorneys to give up the fight. Each is very committed to serving his or her clients, as are the organizations in which they work. The attorneys were asked to talk about their most satisfying cases. The responses provided a helpful description of daily life in these organizations. Life in these organizations is often somewhat routine. The work includes many more phone interventions than courtroom appearances. The attorneys clearly see the big picture issues that their clients face each day. However, the attorneys are so busy with emergency cases, in which the client is homeless tonight but for the attorney's intervention, that they have no time to attempt to fix problems with broader interventions.
The second goal involves an assessment of the assumptions made by LSC critics. It is clear that these attorneys are not working as left-wing operatives with specific policy goals. They are, contrary to the critics assumptions, working very hard, every day, to address the needs of individual clients. There is no evidence that these attorneys are exploiting clients to advance a political agenda. The satisfaction these attorneys receive from cause oriented litigation is related to the use of lawyering skills rather than an effort to advance certain issues. These attorneys enjoy using the skills they worked so hard to acquire. The attorneys are not motivated by a desire to alter our society. In fact, most have learned that the law is not a particularly useful tool for those who may be motivated to force wide scale social change.
Debate regarding the LSC included many references to the presumed "cause orientation" of LSC funded work. The debate has diverted attention from an issue that may have led to more support for the LSC. If debate had focused on access to justice, rather than the ideological motivations of LSC-funded attorneys and the potential for systemic change, it would have been difficult for LSC critics to develop support for their ideas. However, I am not completely convinced that the critics really mean what they say. It is easy to see that LSC funded work is directed toward client, as opposed to cause, based representation. In reality, the client/cause issue may be little more than a smokescreen to shield a covert agenda. The critics' true agenda may well be related to preventing justice, protecting their position in society, and replicating a hierarchy that prevents many Americans from becoming active participants in our society.
If the critics' goal was to stop federally funded cause litigation, their efforts were successful. If they expected their efforts to end all cause oriented litigation on behalf of the poor, they seriously underestimated the resolve and commitment of the attorneys and organizations who provide these services. The critics, if they had taken a closer look, might have learned that these attorneys and organizations are not motivated in ways that the critics assumed. Attorney and organization ideology, not to advance left wing issues, but to provide equal access to the law, drives these organizations to prevail in the face of the critics' best efforts.
The third research goal is to document attorney reactions to changes in the LSC, with special emphasis on job satisfaction and career examination. In short, the attorneys are not happy with the changes and are less satisfied with their work than they were as this research began. The attorneys are examining where their career paths have taken them. Each attorney appears to be content with his or her decision to choose public interest law. However, several are wondering whether new options, with greater satisfaction potential, may appear as legal services is redesigned.
In round one it was apparent that relatively small successes, that had large impact on the life of a client, were very rewarding to the attorneys. Notes, flowers, cakes, and heartfelt thanks meant a great deal to the attorneys. In addition to these small victories, the attorneys felt they were working together in an effort to minimize the suffering of their clients. Some attorneys thought that doing this one client at a time was ineffective, yet they knew that options regarding broader interventions were limited. In round two, there was not a lot of satisfaction to be found. It was clearly a crisis atmosphere. The attorneys were concerned with the future of their families. They were also concerned with their organizations and clients. In addition, the big picture was not getting any better. The attorneys were concerned about changes that would soon impact the lives of their clients. For example, the attorneys were aware of the fact that their right to assist clients with welfare related problems was being taken away just as the government embarked on a massive program of welfare reform.
In the third round of interviews there was a general improvement in job satisfaction. Job satisfaction had clearly not rebounded to 1994 levels, but the crisis of late 1995 had passed. One thing that was discussed in several interviews was related to the fact that the foundation for an effective LSC remained. The critics were not successful in eliminating the organization, so it was possible that, in different political times, the LSC could begin to work toward its original goals. One of the most telling statements came from Dennis Davis, who talked about the acceptance that there were even less things the attorneys could do for their clients. These attorneys had become accustomed to working with one hand tied behind their backs. They were not sure how to function as both hands were being taken away.
During the first round of interviews, the atmosphere in these organizations was one of calm, hope, and relief. They had survived the Reagan years and were optimistic about the future. Just eighteen months later, the atmosphere was typified by anxiety, frustration, shock, stress, and uncertainty. The organizations were facing the same sort of adversary, but this time the critics appeared to be stronger, smarter, and more determined. During the third round, just three years after the first, the individuals had, in many ways, come full circle. Perhaps not quite there, but on the way. The calm had returned, there were glimmers of hope about the future, and tentative relief that they had survived. The anxiety and uncertainty remained, but the intensity was far less than that observed in the second round. The attorneys and organizations were trying to settle into new roles, which were being defined day by day. New stresses, now between old friends, surfaced as these new organizations attempted to communicate with each other. The stress appeared to be friendly and the attorneys wanted to continue redefining their roles in ways that relieved the stress and improved the level of service they could provide to clients.
There was optimism, especially among the GLS and PILG attorneys, regarding their redefined efforts. The SLS office was less optimistic. Perhaps they had yet to reach a level where the changes were accepted and the individuals were able to plan for the future. SLS may have just been a few months behind the others. Another possibility, somewhat less optimistic, is that changes in the Gore offices allowed the attorneys to move in a direction that better suited their preferences. The SLS attorneys may have seen themselves trapped in a role that was not as satisfying as that they had previously performed. Of course, these observations may be a function of the size and composition of the respondent group. My discussions were with a limited number of attorneys, which seemed to work in the earlier rounds. By round three the variability of reactions may have increased so much that it would have been helpful to increase the number of informants.
The altered context has had significant impact on daily activity. Several attorneys expressed a desire to continue with a full range of activity, both client and cause oriented. While it is early in the life of these new organizations, those who now spend the majority of their time on cause oriented work are likely miss the ready and personal feedback they once enjoyed from grateful clients. This feedback was very rewarding and was a strong motivator for the attorneys. Unfortunately, this feedback may also be lost among the client oriented attorneys, who, because of numbers related pressures, were addressing client needs through less personal interventions.
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1 "LSC-funded law office" is an accurate description of these organizations. They may also be known as law clinics, law firms, or legal services providers, terms which are used interchangeably in this paper. Regardless of terminology, the focus is on law offices that receive (or previously received) funding from the LSC. Another term, similarly cumbersome, is "LSC-funded attorney." Attorneys interviewed for this research may also be referred to as LSC attorneys, although they do not work for the LSC. The attorneys are employed in offices that receive funding from the LSC.
2 This is the first of many quotes from attorney interviews. Each interview was tape recorded and transcribed. The respondents are quoted at length throughout this paper. Since confidentiality was promised, transcripts cannot be provided to others. Rather than provide page citations to documents that are not available, page citations to interview related quotes are not provided. When referring to information provided in the interviews, paraphrased information is cited. All quotes are also cited and quotation marks are used. Only the page numbers are omitted.