Fifty years ago, in August of 1967, the first group of fifty fellows from the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship Program (RHS), completed their training to start their assignments at local legal services programs across the United States. Among the first class of Reggies were Dan Bradley, who became the second President of the Legal Services Corporation, Cordell Meeks, Jr., who later became the first African-American judge in Kansas City, Henry Freedman, who became the director of the Center for Social Welfare Policy and Law (later: NCLEJ), David Diamond, the chief welfare attorney and later head of the Law Reform and Test Case Unit at the Mobilization for Youth, Robert Bennett, who became Northwestern University School of Law dean, George Ranney, who became the Executive VP of Inland Steel and Elizabeth Evans Neely, a pioneer in Georgia’s legal community, who co-founded the statewide program to provide legal services to low-income clients.
During the first summer course in 1967, Tony Amsterdam taught civil procedure. James Freedman, who became the president of Dartmouth College, taught education law and Ed Sparer taught welfare law for a week, recalls Henry Freedman in a 2013 oral history for the NEJL.
The RHS program was established in order to attract talented young lawyers to the field of poverty law. Initially sponsored by the Legal Services Program within the Office of Economic Opportunity and administered by the University of Pennsylvania, it recruited recent law school graduates, trained them in various aspects of poverty law, and placed them in regional legal services projects throughout the country. The program was named for Reginald Heber Smith, author of Justice and the Poor (1919).
Inspired by the civil and economic rights movements and committed to their cause, the Reggies made an immediate impact upon the regional and local projects where they were placed. After two years, in 1969, the Program was moved from the University of Pennsylvania to Howard University where greater emphasis was placed on attracting minority Fellows. When OEO was dismantled in the mid-1970’s, the Reggie Program moved to the Legal Services Corporation. From 1967 to 1985, when the program ended, there were approximately 2,000 Reggies. Many went on to have careers in legal services, become educators, judges, and prominent lawyers.
The NEJL houses the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Program Collection (NEJL 049), which was created in preparation for the Thirtieth Anniversary Reunion of Reggies in 1998, sponsored by the NEJL. Part of the collection is a roster of former Reggies, compiled by Clint Bamberger. The NEJL oral history collection also includes many interviews with former Reggies.