NEJL receives the papers of Attorney Peter S. Smith

The family of New Hampshire civil rights attorney Peter S. Smith has generously donated Mr. Smith’s papers to the National Equal Justice Library. Peter S. Smith passed away earlier this year. After graduating from Cornell University Law School in 1963, he joined the Appeals and Research Section of the Civil Rights Division, where he assisted in the preparation and defense of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1966, Smith was hired as an attorney for the Neighborhood Legal Services Program of Washington, D.C. In 1968, Smith was one of the legal services lawyers working on Shapiro v. Thompson, and he argued the case for the four appellees in No. 33 on the original argument.


Letter from Archibald Cox to Peter S. Smith, Oct. 29, 1968. Peter S. Smith Papers, NEJL.

In 1969, Mr. Smith was hired by Piper & Marbury to establish and direct an inner-city branch office of the law firm whose practice was devoted exclusively to helping the poor. It was the first law firm in the nation to launch such a program. Mr. Smith joined the faculty of the University of Maryland Law School in 1972, where he created one of the first clinical legal education programs in the U.S. In 1990, Mr. Smith and his family returned to his childhood home in Durham, N.H., where he continued practicing special education law and represented children with disabilities as a solo practitioner until retiring last year.

The papers include background materials and unique correspondence with Howard Westwood and Archibald Cox related to Shapiro v. Thompson 394 U.S. 618 (1969).

An inventory and finding aid are currently being prepared.


New NEJL exhibition on the beginnings of the OEO Legal Services Program

A new exhibition in the atrium of Georgetown Law Library highlights the beginnings of the OEO Legal Services Program, with a specific focus on the DC Neighborhood Legal Services Project as one of the pioneering programs funded by the OEO. The exhibition is featuring the Clinton Bamberger Papers, the Jean and Edgar Cahn Papers, the Gary Bellow Collection, and the Earl Johnson Jr. papers.

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America—Links to Recording and Twitter Feed

Yesterday morning, Georgetown’s Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities hosted a conversation with Kathy Edin and Luke Shaefer about their new book, $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. Several attendees compared the relevance of the book with Michael Harrington’s The Other America (1962).

The event included remarks by Senator Sherrod Brown and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecelia Munoz, as well as a panel discussion moderated by Georgetown University’s Peter Edelman with Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Aparna Mathur.

A full-length recording of the event is available here:

A Twitter feed with the hashtag 2dollars is available here:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Georgetown Law hosts $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America  – A Conversation with Authors Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 from 8:45 – 11:30 a.m. on the 12th floor of the Gewirz Student Center, located on the Georgetown Law campus at 120 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. Remarks will be delivered by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. A panel discussion moderated by Georgetown Law Professor Peter Edelman will follow. Participants in the panel discussion will include Wade Henderson (Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights), Barbara Ehrenreich (author, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America) and Aparna Mathur (American Enterprise Institute).

This event will be hosted by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Media interested in attending should email

More information is available here:

Defender Office Management in the Bronze Age of Computers: The NLADA MIS Feasibility Study and the AMICUS System

Defender Office Management in the Bronze Age of Computers: The NLADA Management Information Systems Feasibility Study and the AMICUS System

By Katharina Hering

Earlier this year, Bob Nichols contacted the NLADA, and inquired about the possibility of donating his materials related to his work on management information systems in defender offices. The materials, which he subsequently donated to the NEJL and the NLADA, are as interesting as are the stories he has to tell about his work as the MIS Project manager from 1978-1982. Nichols had worked as a systems analyst, computer programmer, and technical writer for IBM before going to law school. In 1978, fresh out of Georgetown Law and looking for work, he was connected with Howard Eisenberg, who was then the director of the Defender Division of the NLADA. Eisenberg, coincidentally, was looking for someone who could direct a feasibility study for management information systems. Nichols, who had taken the Criminal Justice Clinic during law school, was the perfect match – his combination of knowledge about criminal justice and computer system development was truly unique.


The feasibility study was made possible through a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). The goal was to study the feasibility of computer-assisted management information systems for public defender offices across the United States, modelled after the pioneering PROMIS (Prosecutor Management Information System) computer system, which had been funded by the LEAA. The aim was to develop a – possibly automated — management system that could help defender offices with case-tracking and statistics management. The focus on management tools signaled “the entrance of the defender movement into its second generation,” wrote Eisenberg in the foreword to the study, published in 1979 (foreword, DMIS, vol. 1). After the right to counsel for indigent defendants was established, it became increasingly important to find ways to ensure quality representation and good management in defender offices.

These were still the days before the widespread introduction of personal computers, which became ubiquitous in offices a few years later. ibm_1984At the time, there were only three types of computers available: big mainframe computers (“the size of an automobile to the size of a moving van”, explained Nichols), smaller, less powerful, minicomputers, or even smaller microcomputers, which were more specialized in application. Due to the costs and expertise that was required to set up computer systems, the NLADA approached the study with some initial skepticism – was it really necessary to introduce expensive, automated, management systems, if so many defender offices were barely able to sustain their basic operations with their budgets? However, as their work on the study progressed, it became obvious to the NLADA team under Nichols that many defender offices could benefit from a system or set of tools that supported the staff with managing their workflow, such as case-tracking sheets, statistic gathering tools, or calendars. The study was based on 36 in-depth telephone interviews with defender offices, as well as in-depth surveys with five selected offices, which included on-site visits. The results of the survey, which includes very informative descriptions of the operations and workload of the selected defender offices and systems (for example the Public Defender’s Office in San Francisco, and the defender system in the State of Wisconsin), are included in the four volume MIS feasibility study report.

One of the consequences of the study was the development of a manual management information system for public defender offices with a subsequent grant from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the AMICUS System, which was the first of its kind produced in the United States. The AMICUS system presented a method and tools to gather data necessary to operate defender offices, including case-tracking forms and calendars. Nichols, who again served as the Project Director, traveled to numerous defender offices and helped implement the system. Subsequently, the system was widely adopted in defender offices across the U.S.

amicus_case_log_small1The carefully designed and meticulously documented study, published in 1979, remains a fascinating historical document from the Bronze Age of computers. Nichols, a skilled technical writer, was the principal author, ensuring that even the more technical parts dealing with automation were comprehensible for readers with no background in computer engineering. The statistical information and detailed descriptions of defender offices offer valuable historical background information about the operations of defender offices at the time. Last but not least, the study offers a valuable lesson, which continues to resonate today: all too often, the introduction of generic software applications drive office operations and staff needs. A more intelligent approach, however, starts with a careful analysis of the underlying office and staff needs BEFORE introducing the tools to support their work. The MIS feasibility study still serves as a model of such an analysis.


Defender Management Information Systems: feasibility study. 4 volumes. Washington, D.C: NLADA, 1979.

AMICUS: A Manual Management Information System for Defender Offices. 2 volumes. Washington, D.C: NLADA, 1981.

Robert Nichols, “Order in the Age of Information: Management Information Systems.” NLADA Briefcase, Fall, 1979, 106-109.

NEJL initiative to address dangers of link rot of research materials on legal aid and indigent defense

The NEJL has launched a new initiative to address the dangers of link rot, and prevent the potential loss of critical research materials on civil legal aid and indigent defense. Access to web-published content can be lost as websites, including linked documents, are routinely updated, reorganized, or deleted over time. The Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group, a collaborative digital preservation program established to preserve and ensure permanent access to vital legal information, found that — on the basis of its samples — link rot has increased to 51.12 percent within seven years, between 2008 and 2014. This means that over half of the sampled materials disappeared from the original web addresses. Among the highest increases of link rot showed the content at .org domains — more than 56 percent of the materials posted to organization domains disappeared from the original documented web addresses.

To address these dangers, and contribute to the preservation of critical research materials on civil legal aid and indigent defense, the NEJL has created the collection: Equal Justice Reports and Proceedings (Gray Literature) Collection, which is available through the Digital Georgetown repository. This growing collection includes recent and historical reports and proceedings on civil legal aid, indigent defense, and — more generally– on criminal justice and human rights. The collection includes pdf files of born digital or digitized documents, as well as bibliographic references and permalinks to copyrighted gray literature. In addition to the permalinks, all materials in the collection include an abstract, and are described using standardized terms.

Katharina Hering

A new collection of essays on the rise of the carceral state in the U.S.

The latest special issue of the Journal of American History (vol. 102, issue 1, 2015) is on Historians and the Carceral State. Most of the essays focus on the expansion of the carceral state in the United States during the twentieth century: how undocumented Latino immigrants have become the largest population in the federal prison system to U.S. policing abroad; how African American women have been over-incarcerated for protecting themselves against rape and domestic violence; on the role of white suburban drug use and the crack epidemic in the “war on drugs;” how prison building drove the political economy of the sun belt, and on the impact of prisoner and antipolice brutality activism on gay rights and the Chicano and African American freedom movements. The volume also includes an essay by Elizabeth Hinton: A War within Our Own Boundaries”: Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Rise of the Carceral State.

All essays are available online, at no charge, from the JAH website.

Oral history interview with Thomas Ehrlich available online

tom_ehrlichIn the 2004 interview, Thomas Ehrlich discusses his career, with a particular focus on his appointment and tenure as the first president of the Legal Services Corporation in 1975. Ehrlich served for three years, closely collaborating with Clint Bamberger, whom he had asked to serve as the executive vice president. Ehrlich recalls the tense moments in October 1975, when Revius O. Ortique flew in at the last hour to break a tie on the eleven-member LSC Board to approve Clint Bamberger’s appointment.  Despite this initial challenge, the Board turned out to be “very supportive of virtually everything that Clint and I tried to do together.” Ehrlich also discusses the major LSC initiatives during this period of rapid expansion of the legal services program, and the major policy challenges that they faced, such as the Green Amendment, which proposed to eliminate the back-up centers.

The full length video recording of the interview, as well as a transcript, is available online at: