Growth of the Support System

By Alan Houseman

[Part 10 of the series on the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation, Support: p. 3]

This is the third 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 1977-1981 to grow and expand the support system. The second blog explored 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.

lsc_logoThe Corporation did not develop a coherent support policy until late 1978. See LSC, Support: Policies and Options for 1979 and Beyond (September 14, 1978). That policy developed after meetings held by key LSC staff; the Next Steps process; the development of a paper on National Advocacy; a joint PAG, NCC, NLADA task force on support; and the creation of a LSC support task force in the Summer of 1978 which held two large meetings and three smaller meetings and which discussed a planning paper prepared by LSC staff Alan Houseman and Judy Riggs. In addition, the 1007(h) study required by Congress in the 1977 LSC Reauthorization called for creation of national support entities on immigration and veterans. See Special Legal Problems and Problems of Access to Legal Services of Veterans, Migrant and Season Farmworkers, Native Americans, People with Limited English-Speaking Abilities and Individuals in Sparsely Populated Areas (LSC 1980).

Special legal problems and problems of access to legal services of veterans, Native Americans, people with limited English-speaking abilities, migrant and seasonal farm workers, individuals in sparsely populated areas : a report to Congress as required by section 1007 (h) of the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974, as amended. Summary. Washington, DC: LSC, 1980.

The new LSC support policy mandated: (1) increased national support through increased funding for existing centers, the development of new support centers, expansion of national advocacy and the development of manuals and materials; (2) development of state support to carry out three principal functions of state level advocacy, coordination and support initially through a state planning process and ultimately with increased funding; (3) decentralization of training, from national events to local and regional training; (4) an expanded Clearinghouse Review to include articles and discussions of delivery issues; and (5) targeting of technical (or management assistance) to program problems as defined through monitoring and evaluation. The policy was never fully implemented. This was due to the low priority placed upon support in the LSC budget requests and among the supporters of the program in Congress. While not overtly hostile, many of the moderate Congressional supporters, particularly on the appropriations committee, did not give high priority to increased support but instead pressured LSC to complete the “minimum access” plan of providing programs to cover every county in the U.S. and territories.

National Support: Growth did come eventually for national support although no significant new money was available until 1979. The new support policy set out four principle functions for national support: (1) support of legal services staff and clients though individual service work, library and resource material, training, communications, the development of manuals and materials, technical assistance and development of strategies for use by local program staff; (2) litigation, including serving as counsel for eligible clients and co-counsel with local program staff; (3) legislative and administrative representation on behalf of eligible clients, including representation before Congress; and (4) coordination and establishment of networks with local program staff, other advocates and advocate organizations representing the poor, Many of the centers were funded to open Washington, DC offices for advocacy before Congress and in the federal agencies. Responsibilities of some of the existing centers were expanded, and new funding was made available for additional responsibilities and for special projects. All of the centers were encouraged to produce manuals and materials for use by local program staff, and additional funds were made available for these products. The Youth Law Center and the National Juvenile Law Center merged in 1980 into the National Center on Youth Law.

New initiatives were funded to cover family law (National Center on Women and Family Law), immigration (National Immigration Law Center), access to federal courts (Access to Justice Project at NLADA), veteran’s issues (National Veterans Legal Services Project), civil rights (through a contract with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law), food and hunger (Food Research and Action Center) and mental disability law (Mental Health Law Project). However, there remained a number of areas in which support needs were great and no center was available to provide assistance (e.g., physically disabled).

State Support: There was substantial growth in state support. OEO had funded the Western Center on Law and Poverty (California); Michigan Legal Services; Massachusetts Law Reform; Ohio State Legal Services; Greater Upstate Law Project (New York) and Legal Services of New Jersey. When discretionary money became available from the Corporation in 1977 and 1978, the programs in some states (primarily in the South and Southwest) pooled resources to establish state support projects–then called “joint ventures.” Often these projects limited their functions to training and legislative and administrative advocacy. Virtually none carried on the full range of activities of those programs funded through OEO. In other states where expansion was great, some state support entities were created as new programs or parts of expansion programs. In some states, the statewide program provided support to its staff and the staff of any other program.

Eventually, LSC recognized the need for state support in all states and in 1979 began the process of state planning for and funding state level advocacy, coordination and support around the country. However, because of budget pressures and the Congressional emphasis on “minimum access,” new money was not allocated until 1981. The plans were only partially implemented when the appropriations reductions for FY 1982 stopped the expansion of state support.

Training: Perhaps the greatest increase in support occurred in training. Substantial new funds were allocated to OPS in 1978 through 1980. OPS originally gave high priority to a series of national and regional training events for attorneys and paralegals. These events were beginning to come under increasing criticism from local program staff and local project directors (as well as clients) when the support study began. A National Training Advisory Committee (NTAC) was established in 1978 and recommended a shift in training from the national to the local level and increased use of training grants to states and regions to conduct their own training activities. The support study adopted a view that was generally consistent with the recommendations coming from field programs and the advisory committee. By then, however, the OPS staff had been

increased substantially. Tension began to arise between the desires of OPS staff and the recommendations of the advisory committees and the support study.

Bureaucratic resistance to the shift in training contemplated by the support policy also existed within OFS and the regional offices. The regional offices saw the opportunity to expand their activities and to use training as a means to improve quality in programs. In response to the regional office pressures and the OPS desires, LSC adopted a bureaucratically acceptable compromise. Instead of creating regional training centers, LSC regionalized its own staff, placing regional training coordinators in the regional offices. The coordinators were accountable both to the regional office director in OFS and to OPS. They were given some new funds to provide local training grants to programs.

The support policy contemplated turning most national training over to the national support centers. Some of the centers were reluctant to undertake the substantial training role originally contemplated without significantly increased funding. When additional funds for national training and national conferences were made available, the support centers provided the increased training. The solution wasn’t entirely accepted. There continued to be internal divisions within LSC and legal services over the training efforts and the role which OPS and the support centers (state and national) should play.

The training aspect of the support study was never fully implemented until the 1981 budget crisis forced the LSC staff to seriously consider how effective training was to exist in the future. LSC created five regional training centers by funding existing programs to undertake training activities previously done at LSC. Also, LSC funded the Western Center on Law and Poverty to undertake substantive law training. These grants provided funds through 1983. At the time the grants were made, the LSC senior staff expected the training centers to function as permanent LSC grantees. However, because of the severe funding reductions, there was insufficient money to provide funding over a longer period of time.

Also in 1981, LSC gave a grant to NLADA to deliver Management Assistance and created an independent National Clearinghouse.

Support–An Overview: To a certain extent, the elevation of “support” was to be expected. As the delivery system matured in any given place, it became clear that there were many desirable roles between national advocates and local office staff and that the support centers had only scratched the surface of needed national activities. Training was an obvious way to improve quality of service and it made sense to initially develop much of the training at the national level. State support addressed the inability of local county or city-based programs to address state policy issues and to coordinate advocacy within a state. It was also expectable that support would come under criticism from within. Leadership by support centers would be perceived as less necessary as local programs built-up experienced staff and law developed in most of the “poverty law” areas.

Finally, it was predictable that support policy should be a bellwether of the maturing of the overall delivery system. In the beginning, aggressive and imaginative legal services lawyers had freedom to take on new problems, develop new theories, and establish new rights. By the time of the Corporation, much of that freedom had disappeared. Large and intricate bodies of law had developed. Except for national advocacy (and some state advocacy) there was an expectation that field programs could handle all problems in these areas. Clients had come to expect this performance. However, only with extensive training, specialization and support were the expectations reachable. As the Corporation settled legal services into a service delivery bureaucracy, support became a central and growing part of the system. It undertook critical advocacy at the national and state level that local programs could not provide to their clients. It created and maintained networks of advocates in states and nationally to assure effective coordination and communication. It provided essential background materials and manuals. It participated in training. If support was no longer the engine of reform, it was a major source of quality and competency.

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.

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