$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 mediarelations@law.georgetown.edu.

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:


2014 Report: The Right To Legal Aid

2014 Report: The Right To Legal Aid: How British Columbia’s Legal Aid System Fails to Meet International Human Rights Obligations. Report by Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, 2014.

Note: The NEJL is collecting bibliographic references and links to this and other recent publications on civil legal aid and indigent defense, which can be accessed online for no charge.

Legal Aid 1900 to 1930: What Happened to Law Reform?

[Cross-posted from the Legal History blog]

Mark Spiegel, Boston College Law School (and a former Reggie), has posted Legal Aid 1900 to 1930: What Happened to Law Reform? which is forthcoming in the DePaul Journal for Social Justice:

This article offers a counter narrative to the conventional description of legal aid in the United States. By offering this counter narrative it focuses us on certain enduring difficulties that any legal aid or legal services program has to face if it wants to engage in reform efforts: problems of funding and problems of the social and historical context. Conventional wisdom has it that legal aid until the 1960s was largely devoted to individual cases and that it was not until the advent of federally-funded legal services that law reform and social change became part of the delivery of legal services to the poor. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, there is another story. As this article demonstrates, there was an aspiration toward using the legal system aggressively to achieve social justice during the period 1900 to roughly 1920. This changed during the 1920s.

In presenting this counter-narrative, this article first looks at legal aid during the period 1900-1920 to support the thesis that during this period legal aid aspired toward using the legal system to achieve social justice. It then looks at that next decade, the 1920s, and describes how legal aid became the kind of organization that conventional wisdom describes: a legal aid organization devoted almost solely to individual cases with a large focus on domestic relations practice and abandoning any attempt to use law to achieve social justice. More importantly, this article explores why this change to a more traditional type of legal aid occurred. The most interesting theories blame Reginald Heber Smith and the American Bar Association. Smith is blamed because of his alleged emphasis on access to justice in a landmark study of legal aid called “Justice and the Poor” published in 1919. The ABA is blamed because of the alleged “takeover” of legal aid by the conservative bar in the 1920’s, enabled by the ABA’s establishment of a standing committee on legal aid. These theories, however, are too reductionist and overlook two more important explanations for this retreat from law reform: the need for funding and the social and historical context. These explanations are significant not only because they shed light on a neglected part of our past, but because they connect that past to issues that persist until today.

May 12 Panel Discussion on Poverty with President Barack Obama, Robert Putnam, Arthur Brooks, and E.J. Dionne – watch the video recording online

poverty_summit_2015President Barack Obama, Robert Putnam, professor of sociology at Harvard and most recently author of: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, participated in a panel discussion on overcoming poverty that was part of the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown. The discussion on May 12, 2015, was moderated by E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist and Georgetown faculty member.

A full-length video recording of the panel discussion that was held this week, on May 12, 2015, can be viewed from the Georgetown University website: