By Alan Houseman
[Part 13 of the series on the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation, Support: part 6]
This is the sixth in the series of blogs that are 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 where we are today and the future of support. 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 second and third blogs discussed what LSC did between 1975 and 1981 to preserve, expand and strengthen the support system brought over from the OEO legal services program. The fourth discussed the efforts by the LSC Boards appointed by President Reagan to defund or limit support. The fifth blog explored the time between 1985 and 1996 and the ultimate Congressional action that eliminated funding for support.
The network of state and federal support and training entities formerly funded by LSC has been curtailed, and some of its components have been substantially dismantled. However, many critical components still exist.
Since the loss of their LSC funding, most of the national centers have continued and received funding through national and regional foundations and some IOLTA programs. Many have thrived and grown in funding, national recognition and effectiveness. Examples include: National Center for Law and Economic Justice, National Housing Law Program, National Center for Youth Law, the National Health Law Program and Justice in Aging (formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center). A number of the national support centers that had focused solely on issues affecting the low-income community have broadened their focus to attract new sources of funds and also grown in effectiveness. Examples include the National Consumer Law Center, National Employment Law Project, National Immigration Law Center and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development (formerly the National Economic and Development Law Center). Several (e.g., National Center on Women and Family Law) closed their doors when they were unable to raise sufficient funds to operate effectively.
The National Clearinghouse became the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and continued the Clearinghouse Review until 2015. It is a major state level advocacy entity. It also incorporated the Center for Legal Aid Education and now is a leader in providing substantive, skills, advocacy and racial justice training for civil legal aid programs.
Although the Regional Training centers no longer exist as such, some programs which housed the centers have continued some training activities. NLADA also ensures substantive law training at national conferences, conducts a substantive law training program for newer attorneys and paralegals every two years and conducts a conference for litigation directors every two years. The Management Information Exchange (MIE) provides management training for executive directors, managers, supervisors and fundraising staff.
At the state level, the network of LSC-funded support centers has been replaced by a group of independent non-LSC funded entities engaged in state advocacy that operate in over 30 states. Only 12 of the current state entities are former LSC-funded state support centers. Several states have been unable to recreate a significant state support capacity at all. A survey of state advocacy and support conducted by the Project for the Future of Equal Justice during 2000 and 2001 (The Missing Link in State Justice Communities: The Capacity in Each State for State Level Advocacy, Coordination and Support) revealed that since the loss of LSC funding for support in 1996: (1) A few states have preserved and/or strengthened the capacity for state level advocacy, coordination and information dissemnation, have increased training and developed very comprehensive state support systems; (2) in a number of states, there has been no state level policy advocacy, no significant training of staff, no information sharing about new developments, no litigation support and no effective coordination among providers; and (3) in a number of states, some state support activities have been undertaken by new entities or carried on by former LSC-funded entities. Those activities that do exist vary widely. In some states an existing entity continued to exist but at lower funding. In other states, a new entity was created to replace an existing entity or to work alongside an existing entity. In still other states, entirely new ways of providing state level advocacy, coordination and support have emerged, such as the Michigan Poverty Law Project, a joint endeavour of Legal Services of South Central Michigan and the University of Michigan Law School.
The future: Many of the national centers are thriving but will continue to need ongoing foundation and IOLTA support to continue their effective work. The Shriver Center has become a leader in state advocacy and training. NLADA and MIE will continue their critical training and management assistance activities.
Although there remain very effective state support centers and initiatives in some states, in other states there is a big challenge to ensuring effective state advocacy, coordination and support. As states move forward in creating integrated, comprehensive systems of civil legal aid delivery, it is essential that these new systems ensure extended representation in complex litigation, in class actions, and on systemic issues; and representation before state and local legislative and administrative bodies that make laws or policies affecting low-income and vulnerable people. In addition, these state systems must ensure that all individuals participating in providing, supporting, or managing civil legal aid should receive ongoing training and participate in professional and leadership development activities. Management information and information about new developments in the law also should be disseminated to all advocates and managers. Support should be provided on state legal issues, and advocates should coordinate their work on behalf of the client community. Finally, these emerging state systems must assure that providers in the state should work and coordinate with national entities and organizations to receive support and information about changes in law and policy and to ensure that the interests and legal rights of low-income persons are taken into account by national bodies involved in civil justice and dispute resolution.