By Alan Houseman
[Part 9 of the series on the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation, Support: p. 2]
This is the second in a series of blogs that is focusing on the development, growth and demise of the federally funded support infrastructure: national support centers; state support; training; technical assistance; and information sharing and dissemination. This blog will explore what LSC did in 1975 and 1976 to preserve the support system brought over from the OEO legal services program. The first blog focused on the development of that unique system and ended with the inclusion of the “Green Amendment” in the LSC Act.
The first real policy controversy facing the new LSC board was what to do with the back-up centers. In response to the Nixon veto threat, Congress had passed the Green Amendment. Under that amendment, research, training, technical assistance and clearinghouse functions had to be done by LSC directly “and not by grant or contract.” Congresswoman Green intended the language to cover direct advocacy for clients, an essential part of the back-up center function, but failed to state that intent clearly in the language. As a result, the language required LSC to take over only some of the functions of the back-up centers. Other functions couldn’t be picked up by LSC because its staff could not practice law directly. Thus, the LSC board faced a quandary. It could defund the back-up centers as Congresswoman Green intended, but only by eliminating some of their functions entirely. It could continue funding the centers but would have to do something to cover the activities specified in the Green Amendment.
In 1975, as one of its first actions, the LSC board requested a legal analysis from David Tatel, the transition General Counsel, and commissioned a study by a prominent public interest lawyer, Alexander Polikoff, to examine the activities of the centers and LSC’s ability to support all or part of the activities. It also heard from former Congresswoman Green and relevant Congressional committee chairmen. The Tatel Memorandum and the study conclusions known as the “Polikoff Report,” found client representational activities, including the research normally done by a lawyer for a client, to be outside the meaning of the Green Amendment. The study found that the centers engaged in both permitted and nonpermitted activities. Based on the Polikoff Report and the Tatel Memorandum, LSC President Tom Ehrlich proposed evaluating each center and continuing those that delivered services still permitted under the Green Amendment while narrowing their activities solely to those permitted by the Act. The term “support center” was coined to connote the new role. Based on the evaluation, all the substantive area centers were refunded.
While the back-up centers survived as “support centers,” they received little from the Corporation in the initial years. Funding was not significantly increased over 1975 levels although the number of field program staff the centers supported increased dramatically through expansion. As a result, the centers were stretched very thin in attempting to meet the assistance requests, particularly those from expansion programs and offices.
Based on the Polikoff Report, the Tatel Analysis and the Ehrlich Memo, the training centers (Legal Services Training Program and National Paralegal Institute), the NLADA Management Assistance Project and the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services were terminated. The Clearinghouse was absorbed into the Corporation with no change in office location and little change in staff and operation.
The Green Amendment very much shaped the future of the Corporation. The Corporation created two separate divisions—the Office of Program Support and the Research Institute–to take over the activities of the back-up centers that had to be handled by the Corporation. This organization was a particular stimulus to training and to research activities that came “in-house” under the Green Amendment. The Research Institute produced a series of papers, articles and books on “poverty law” subjects, sponsored conferences to discuss and disseminate its work and undertook delivery research.
The Office of Program Support (OPS) concentrated on training, greatly expanding the national training effort and eventually working into regional and local training. Most of the activities of the terminated centers were continued in OPS. Management assistance functions were divided between OPS and the Office of Field Services (OFS). Up until 1980, OPS and OFS shared authority for management assistance without a clear division of responsibility. Regional offices (part of OFS) provided management assistance to programs. Washington OFS staff developed efforts to assist new and expansion programs. OPS staff ran training and did some direct management assistance. Technical assistance, at least as administered by the regional offices, took various forms–cash awards to accomplish a discrete purpose (to computerize the financial system or to produce a pro-se divorce video tape); the provision of outside consultants to provide a particular service (a management systems expert, or an architect, or a group facilitator to help set program priorities); and consultation on an administrative issue by regional office staff.
During the reauthorization of the LSC Act in 1977, the Green Amendment was deleted, although broad general legal or policy research unrelated to representation of eligible clients could still only be done in-house. This legislative change gave LSC more discretion on how to deliver and fund support.
Alan Houseman’s next blog will explore what LSC did in1977-1981 to grow and expand the support system.
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. The opinions presented in this blog series are his own.