Category Archives: acquisitions

Pat Allott Silbert donates graphic art work to the NEJL

Recently, the NEJL received a wonderful donation of brochures and posters from Pat A. Silbert, who was the Assistant Art Director of the OEO. Silbert designed many of the remarkable posters and brochures for the legal services program, including the stunning cover of the first annual report of the OEO-Legal Services program to the ABA in 1966. Silbert also worked as a graphic designer for the LSC and designed all annual reports of the LSC from 1976-1981. She also took many of the photographs in LSC’s first reports. Silbert’s intelligent, bold, modern graphic design captured the essence of the dynamic legal services program that emerged in the 1960s.

Pat Allott (Silbert) and Peter Masters at work on the Profile on Poverty exhibition, 1965.
Photo donated by Pat A. Silbert.

In a biographical sketch, Silbert recalls how she walked into the office of OEO’s Art Director, Peter Masters, in 1964, determined to work for the new agency. Masters told her that they would not get paid until they received the first appropriation from Congress. However, they worked day and night, and loved the work. When she finally got paid, her salary was much larger than at the advertising agency where she had previously worked. “At the time, the Federal Government was the only employer that did not discriminate in pay against women,” she writes.

She writes that they loved “Sarge,” “the most enthusiastic, hard-working. hard-driving boss ever. We were happy to get the work done by his sometimes impossible deadlines. This involved designing posters, brochures, car cards, and then getting them printed in much less time than the Government Printing Office had ever imagined.”

Since the OEO was a new government agency, they could do things somewhat “more innovative than at other agencies.” Among her projects was the major Profiles of Poverty exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, which featured over a quarter million photographs by more than 100 photographers. Silbert also donated photographs showing her working at the exhibit, and from the opening of the exhibit with Hubert Humphrey and Sargent Shriver. Shriver greatly valued Silbert’s work, and her collection includes reproduction of several notes of appreciation from him, as well as from Gary Bellow and Hubert Humphrey.

Silbert graduated from the Corcoran School of Art and, after working at the OEO, worked as a  freelance graphic designer in the DC area, where she also worked for the LSC. She then turned to painting full-time, and is currently a partner at Waverly Street Gallery in Bethesda.
The Pat A. Silbert collection is available at the NEJL.

Please help the NEJL with photo identification from 1968 Conference on Welfare Law in New Orleans

NEJL photo identification project

We are hoping to identify the speakers featured in these contact sheets from the 1968 Conference on Welfare Law, held at the Jung Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 27-28, 1968.

If you can identify one or more of the people in the photographs, please email or call the NEJL Archivist: 202-662-4043. Or email:

The photographs are from the National Institute for Education in Law and Poverty (NIELP) collection, which Thomas Buckley donated to the NEJL.

Thank you!


Please help the NEJL with photo identification!

The historical materials from the National Institute for Education in Law and Poverty (NIELP), which Thomas Buckley donated to the NEJL this spring, include a number of interesting photographs from NIELP sponsored conferences from the late 1960s.

We are asking for your help with identifying the speakers featured in these photographs, and will be regularly posting different photographs on this blog. If you can identify one or more of the people in the photographs, please email or call the NEJL Archivist: 202-662-4043. Or email:

Below is the first photo from the 1968 Conference on Welfare Law, held at George Washington University, National Law Center, Washington, DC, May 9-11, 1968.

It is possible that the photo documents a panel about: Welfare Rights Organizations and Group Representation.


Photo from the 1968 Conference on Welfare Law, held at George Washington University, National Law Center, Washington, DC, May 9-11, 1968. NIELP-Thomas Buckley Collection, NEJL 071, Georgetown Law Library.

Thank you for your help!




Defender Office Management in the Bronze Age of Computers: The NLADA MIS Feasibility Study and the AMICUS System

Defender Office Management in the Bronze Age of Computers: The NLADA Management Information Systems Feasibility Study and the AMICUS System

By Katharina Hering

Earlier this year, Bob Nichols contacted the NLADA, and inquired about the possibility of donating his materials related to his work on management information systems in defender offices. The materials, which he subsequently donated to the NEJL and the NLADA, are as interesting as are the stories he has to tell about his work as the MIS Project manager from 1978-1982. Nichols had worked as a systems analyst, computer programmer, and technical writer for IBM before going to law school. In 1978, fresh out of Georgetown Law and looking for work, he was connected with Howard Eisenberg, who was then the director of the Defender Division of the NLADA. Eisenberg, coincidentally, was looking for someone who could direct a feasibility study for management information systems. Nichols, who had taken the Criminal Justice Clinic during law school, was the perfect match – his combination of knowledge about criminal justice and computer system development was truly unique.


The feasibility study was made possible through a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). The goal was to study the feasibility of computer-assisted management information systems for public defender offices across the United States, modelled after the pioneering PROMIS (Prosecutor Management Information System) computer system, which had been funded by the LEAA. The aim was to develop a – possibly automated — management system that could help defender offices with case-tracking and statistics management. The focus on management tools signaled “the entrance of the defender movement into its second generation,” wrote Eisenberg in the foreword to the study, published in 1979 (foreword, DMIS, vol. 1). After the right to counsel for indigent defendants was established, it became increasingly important to find ways to ensure quality representation and good management in defender offices.

These were still the days before the widespread introduction of personal computers, which became ubiquitous in offices a few years later. ibm_1984At the time, there were only three types of computers available: big mainframe computers (“the size of an automobile to the size of a moving van”, explained Nichols), smaller, less powerful, minicomputers, or even smaller microcomputers, which were more specialized in application. Due to the costs and expertise that was required to set up computer systems, the NLADA approached the study with some initial skepticism – was it really necessary to introduce expensive, automated, management systems, if so many defender offices were barely able to sustain their basic operations with their budgets? However, as their work on the study progressed, it became obvious to the NLADA team under Nichols that many defender offices could benefit from a system or set of tools that supported the staff with managing their workflow, such as case-tracking sheets, statistic gathering tools, or calendars. The study was based on 36 in-depth telephone interviews with defender offices, as well as in-depth surveys with five selected offices, which included on-site visits. The results of the survey, which includes very informative descriptions of the operations and workload of the selected defender offices and systems (for example the Public Defender’s Office in San Francisco, and the defender system in the State of Wisconsin), are included in the four volume MIS feasibility study report.

One of the consequences of the study was the development of a manual management information system for public defender offices with a subsequent grant from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the AMICUS System, which was the first of its kind produced in the United States. The AMICUS system presented a method and tools to gather data necessary to operate defender offices, including case-tracking forms and calendars. Nichols, who again served as the Project Director, traveled to numerous defender offices and helped implement the system. Subsequently, the system was widely adopted in defender offices across the U.S.

amicus_case_log_small1The carefully designed and meticulously documented study, published in 1979, remains a fascinating historical document from the Bronze Age of computers. Nichols, a skilled technical writer, was the principal author, ensuring that even the more technical parts dealing with automation were comprehensible for readers with no background in computer engineering. The statistical information and detailed descriptions of defender offices offer valuable historical background information about the operations of defender offices at the time. Last but not least, the study offers a valuable lesson, which continues to resonate today: all too often, the introduction of generic software applications drive office operations and staff needs. A more intelligent approach, however, starts with a careful analysis of the underlying office and staff needs BEFORE introducing the tools to support their work. The MIS feasibility study still serves as a model of such an analysis.


Defender Management Information Systems: feasibility study. 4 volumes. Washington, D.C: NLADA, 1979.

AMICUS: A Manual Management Information System for Defender Offices. 2 volumes. Washington, D.C: NLADA, 1981.

Robert Nichols, “Order in the Age of Information: Management Information Systems.” NLADA Briefcase, Fall, 1979, 106-109.

Recently cataloged for the NEJL


catalog_record1. Earl Johnson Jr. To Establish Justice for All: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States. 3 Volumes. Praeger, 2013.

2. Allan G. Rodgers. Rap-ups of a retired reformer: stories about how legal services advocates transformed the laws for poor people in Massachusetts. Massachusetts: Allan Rodgers, 2013.

3. John F. Ebbott. Forty Years of Equal Justice with Legal Action of Wisconsin: A History. Milwaukee, Wis.? : Legal Action of Wisconsin, 2009.

4. John F. Ebbott, Kevin G. Magee, Jack W. Ebbott. Toward a Civil Griffin in Wisconsin: Equal Justice Under the Wisconsin Constitution. Milwaukee, Wis.: Legal Action Press, c2005.

5. John F. Ebbott (ed.). HQR : High Quality Representation : Why and How to Pursue the Fundamental Goal of Legal Services : a Collection of Essays. Milwaukee, Wis. : Legal Action Press, 2003.