Featured resource: The Extension of Legal Services to the Poor Conference in 1964

HEW_Nov1964_Proceedings_NEJLFifty years ago, in November 1964, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s Office of Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Development sponsored the Conference: The Extension of Legal Services to the Poor in Washington, D.C. The conference reflected the growing national concern about developing more effective ways of meeting the legal needs of people experiencing poverty, and brought together social workers, lawyers, educators, politicians, and social scientists.

Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, U.S. Attorney General, gave a passionate luncheon address that reflected Katzenbach’s commitment to developing and supporting legal anti-poverty programs as part of the War on Poverty: “It is justice, rather than charity, which calls on us to see to it that the law and the lawyer are involved in the effort to reverse that life sentence (of poverty).”  Referring to the 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright decision, Katzenbach highlighted the need to extend the concerns on the rights of poor people beyond criminal law: “Hopelessness and poverty do not observe neat jurisdictional lines between civil and criminal.” Problems of poor people, he continied, “constitute the new era of public concern, indeed the new area of law, with which we are dealing with at this conference. To be sure these are not new problems – it is our appreciation of them that is new…There must be new techniques, new services, and new forms of interprofessional cooperation to match our new interest…There are signs, too, that a new breed of lawyers is emerging, dedicated to using the law as an instrument of orderly and constructive social change…Communities planning comprehensive antipoverty programs can be expected to include similar provision for the extension of legal services to the poor. And the Office of Economic Opportunity has indicated a willingness to support such programs, both as part of a community action program and also as a separate research and demonstration project.”

“The poor need advocates, not simply to present their side of the story, but to give them hope, to demonstrate that the law is not an enemy, but a guardian, and that public officials are not their masters, but their servants.”

The conference had five panels: The Legal Needs of the Poor; New Legal Services for Economically Depressed Metropolitan Areas; Forewarning the Low-Income Community of the Most Common Legal Difficulties; The Lawyer and the Social Worker; and The Role of Law Schools in the Extension of Legal Services.

Elizabeth Wickenden was among the speakers on the panel: The Legal Needs of the Poor. In her paper, The Indigent and Welfare Administration, Wickenden appealed to use the law to achieve a more equitable application of welfare policy and voiced the hope that the decision in the Gideon case with respect to the right to counsel in criminal cases would be applicable to all civil actions, and to all complaints against the governmental bureaucracy. On the same panel, David Caplovitz from the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University, spoke about consumer problems for the poor, especially legal problems resulting from missed payments and exploitation through merchants. The panel: New Legal Services for Economically Depressed Metropolitan Areas featured papers highlighting the development of and need for neighborhood legal services programs in New York City, Boston, and New Haven. The third panel: Forewarning the Low-Income Community of the Most Common Legal Difficulties featured papers on educational programs for low-income clients, including a panel on Citizen Advice Bureaus in Britain, and a paper by Ed Sparer – the Director of the Legal Services Unit of Mobilization for Youth — on Education on New York’s Lower East Side, in which he discussed the most effective programs to provide legal information to clients, such as the distribution of wallet sized cards stating one’s rights under arrest. The panel: The Lawyer and the Social Worker highlighted the need for better understanding and closer cooperation between lawyers and social workers. The last panel, The Role of Law Schools in the Extension of Legal Services, featured papers by Robert Spangenberg, who spoke about the legal services programs developed at the Boston University School of Law; Kenneth Pye, Dean of Georgetown Law Center, who discussed the success of the Prettyman intern program, initiated in 1959, and Professor Charles Are of New York University, who spoke about the need to develop law school curricula devoted to legal problems of the poor, and about the efforts at NYU Law school to systematically address poverty from a legal and non-legal perspective.

The conference proceedings are available at the National Equal Justice Library (please contact the Project Archivist for scans), and can also be downloaded from the Hathi Trust Digital Library (for those who have access to the database.)

Katharina Hering

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