By Alan Houseman
In 2014, the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, the National Equal Justice Library initiated our blog focusing on the War on Poverty and the Federal Legal Services Program.
In 2015, we will continue the blog with an emphasis on 40 years of federal legal services under the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). But we will also examine what was put in place by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) prior to LSC and carried over by LSC. The year 2015 is, in fact, the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Federal Legal Services Program at OEO.
LSC: On July 25, 1974, President Nixon signed into law the Legal Services Corporation Act. LSC only began a year later, in the fall of 1975. Before LSC could begin, the President had to appoint and the Senate had to confirm the Board of Directors, who were sworn in on July 14, 1975. Ninety days later, on October 12, 1975, the Legal Services Corporation officially took control of the federal legal services program.
The LSC Act does not provide a sunset provision terminating the Corporation at a specific date. However, the 1974 Act only authorized appropriations through FY 1977. The Act was reauthorized once in 1977, providing for appropriations through FY 1980. Since 1980, the Act has not been reauthorized; LSC has continued because Congress has appropriated funds to LSC.
The Blog will begin with a brief history of civil legal aid as background and then in following blogs examine each of the fundamental objectives for LSC set out in the Statement of Purpose of the LSC Act. These are:
1. To ensure “equal access” to our system of justice “for individuals who seek redress of grievances”;
2. To “continue the present vital legal services program”;
3. To provide “high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel”; to “provide the most economical and effective delivery of legal assistance” and “to assist in improving opportunities for low-income persons”;
4. To keep the legal services program “free from the influence of or use by it of political pressures;” and,
5. To assure that “attorneys providing legal assistance…have full freedom to protect the best interests of their clients in keeping with the [ethics codes) … and the high standards of the legal profession.”
Alan Houseman’s first blog in the series, A Brief Review of Civil Legal Aid History, will be posted on February 5th, 2015.
Alan Houseman is the former executive director of CLASP and emeritus senior fellow of the organization, and the president of the Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library.