Category Archives: Future of Legal Services

Featured oral history: Interview with Dennis Groenenboom

Interview with Dennis Groenenboom, November 13, 2014, conducted by Alan Houseman

Dennis Groenenboom, the Executive Director of Iowa Legal Aid, spent his entire career in legal services. After obtaining is J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law, he joined Iowa Legal Aid (then known as the Legal Services Corporation of Iowa) in 1978. Dennis worked as a staff attorney, managing attorney, senior staff attorney, and deputy director, prior to becoming the executive director in 1992. In the interview, he recalls some of the earlier cases he worked on that focused on disability rights, senior citizens’ rights and Dennis Groenenboom2Medicaid issues.

Dennis discusses the history and development of Iowa Legal Aid, which became a statewide program in 2003. In the early years, Iowa Legal Aid was funded almost exclusively by the LSC, but the organization started diversifying its funding in the 1980s. After Congress reduced LSC funding in 1995, Iowa was one of the first states that initiated new state support. Driven and supported by an extraordinary long-term staff, the work of Iowa Legal Aid has covered a wide range of issues and has impacted and improved many areas of law in the state, such as housing law, where Iowa Legal Aid helped to clarify notice provisions and rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants, domestic violence, disability rights, and consumer law. Iowa Legal Aid, which has received a number of technology innovation awards, has also managed to be very accessible on an equal basis for clients across the largely rural state. Special projects have included Iowa Legal Aid’s Health and Law Project, which connects patients of community health centers with lawyers to address underlying legal issues that are impacting the patients’ health, Iowa Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer clinic, a Foreclosure Defense Project, and coordination of legal services in response to flooding and other disasters in the state, among other special initiatives.

Community outreach and education has always been an important part of the work of Iowa Legal Aid , and the organization distributes its quarterly newsletter, the Equal Justice Journal (previously Poor People’s Press), of which Groenenboom serves as the editor, to over 7,000 households.

Groenenboom has closely worked with the Iowa State Bar Association, where he served on the Health Law Section Council, and served on the Civil Policy Group of the NLADA, which he chaired from June 2012 – November 2014, He has been active in working on social justice issues in his church, Common Cause, and the Iowa Pride Network, among other organizations.

Reflecting on the significance and future direction of legal services work, he emphasizes that: “I think it is very important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that part of what we’re doing is trying to get people out of poverty and to have better lives.”

A transcript of the interview is available at Digital Georgetown:

Legal Services History Matters

By Katharina Hering

In her 1998 article Necessary Legends, Marie Failinger reflects about the importance of legal services history. She writes that: “History is crucial for a vision that will sustain a forward movement of legal assistance programs and beat back propaganda against such programs; it is demanded by the client-centered ethic of such programs; and it is important to a continued sense of community within the legal assistance movement.” (268)*

In the aftermath of the elections, reflecting about legal services history has become particularly meaningful. In his remarks at the NLADA Civil Caucus meeting on November 10th, two days after the elections, Don Saunders, NLADA’s Vice President of Civil Legal Services, reminded the audience that the legal services community has successfully managed to sustain programs and the existence of federal funding through challenges by the Nixon and Reagan administrations, as well as by the 104th Congress. Like no other repository in the United States, the NEJL collections document the continuity and transformations of the legal services movement during these challenges.

Reflecting about the meaning of history for the present, Failinger writes: “Like a metaphor, history is both like and unlike our current situation, and it is exactly those similarities and differences which force us to re-think our present, to discover what the ongoing issues of injustice and response have been over centuries, as well as to understand what is new to our situation, and what is likely to change in the future.” (289)

Our oral histories, in particular, offer the opportunity to encounter the stories of the past, and engage with historical reflections by long-time legal services advocates, whether they began their careers in the sixties during the OEO-Legal Services Program, or after the LSC had been established. “For it is in the encounter with the stories of the past that each lawyer’s – each client’s—own story becomes visible and clear to her and becomes transformed for the future.” (268)

Numerous legal services programs have been celebrating their 50thanniversaries in the past two years, such as the Neighborhood Legal Services Program in Washington, DC, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and California Rural Legal Assistance, or are planning celebrations soon, such as Legal Services of New Jersey. In the past five decades, all these programs have adopted different strategies to maintain, develop and grow their equal justice legal work, despite these challenges.

The history of the CRLA, in particular, reflects this persistence. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the CRLA this year and to share these stories of the past with a wider audience, the NEJL has made available streaming video files of our oral history interviews with Michael Bennett, who was CRLA’s first Administrator, and Cruz Reynoso, who became CRLA’s deputy director in 1968 and a few months later its director. These streaming files complement our existing collection of oral history interviews that are already online, several of which also cover the early history of the CRLA, especially the interview with Gary Bellow.

Whether to provide comfort, inspiration, or simply information, listening to these interviews in whole or in part offers welcome moments for reflection during difficult times.

Oral history interview with Cruz Reynoso, conducted by Alan Houseman, August 12. 2002. Oral history collection, National Equal Justice Library, Special Collections, Georgetown Law Library, online at:

Oral history interview with Michael Bennett, conducted by Alan Houseman, May 27, 2004. Oral History Collection, National Equal Justice Library, Georgetown Law Library, online at:

Other resources:

* Failinger, Marie A., Necessary Legends: The National Equal Justice Library and the Importance of Poverty Lawyers’ History (January 1, 1998). St. Louis University Public Law Review, Vol. 17, No. 2 (1998), pp. 265-291. Available at SSRN:

White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable: Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop Report

U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice and Office for Access to Justice with the National Science Foundation. White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable: Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop Report . By Maha Jweied and Allie Yang-Green. NCJ 249776. Washington, D.C. Retrieved February 2016,

Where We Are Today

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.

Upcoming program: The Great Society in Florida at 50: A Look Back, A Look Forward

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg Department of History and Politics has organized a wonderful discussion series that looks at the impact of “The Great Society” on Florida and on the nation, while also debating the future of “the Great Society,” and programs inspired by its vision. The week-long program, which places a specific emphasis on the Great Society as a grassroots movement, will begin next week. The local NPR station did a story on the program, which includes an interview with Elisa Minoff, Assistant Professor of History at USFP, as well as Florida legal services pioneer Joe Segor, who talks about the challenges that Florida Rural Legal Services faced in the mid 1960s, the impact of their work, and the ongoing critical need to provide farm workers and the rural poor with legal assistance and social services.war_on_poverty_usf

A flyer of the full program can be accessed here.

Poverty Journal Symposium Highlights Access to Justice

Poverty Journal Symposium Highlights Access to Justice

Every American knows that he or she has a right to an attorney in a criminal case — thanks to Miranda warnings on TV crime shows. But what many do not know is that they could…

Go to the Law Center’s web story on last week’s Rationing Justice symposium….

Rationing Justice: Access to Justice and the 40th Anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation

Rationing Justice: Access to Justice and the 40th Anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation: 2015 symposium presented by the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy, March 3.

We can look forward to the publication of the proceedings in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy.

View the full recording of the symposium.

The title of the symposium was inspired by Judge Learned Hand’s speech before the Legal Aid Society of New York in 1951, who had said: “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.” The symposium, introduced by Professor Peter Edelman, was as thought-provoking as it was inspiring, and featured two discussion panels, as well as two key note spearationing_justicekers: Jim Sandman, the president of the Legal Services Corporation, and Chief Judge Lippman of New York. Speakers on the first panel discussed how things have changed in four decades of legal services. Panelists included Alan Houseman, former Executive Director and Emeritus Senior Fellow of CLASP; Hannah Lieberman, Executive Director of DC’s Neighborhood Legal Services Program; and Lisa Dewey, DLA Piper’s full-time Pro Bono Partner. The second panel was titled: Ensuring Justice – New Directions in Legal Strategy, and featured Rhonda Brownstein, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Legal Director; Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Dean Jane Aiken, Professor of Law and Director of the Community Justice Project at Georgetown Law Center; and Purvi Shah, Director of the Bertha Justice Institute at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The Long Crisis: Economic Inequality in New York City, video of November 2014 event

CUNY Law School had an excellent War on Poverty event on November 12, entitled The Long Crisis: Economic Inequality in New York City on Nov. 12th, which focused on the role that economic inequality and injustice play within the context of social justice legal issues and practical solutions lawyers and activists are employing to help overcome the inequality.  Proceedings will be published in an upcoming issue of the New York City Law Review, and you can also watch it online at

The panel featured Fahd Ahmed, acting executive director of DRUM–South Asian Organizing Center, Tom Angotti, professor of Urban Affairs and Planning and Director of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director of Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Shawn Blumberg, legal director of Housing Conservation Coordinators, and Robin Steinberg, founder and executive director of The Bronx Defenders.

High Quality Legal Assistance

[Part 3 of the series on the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation]

By Alan Houseman

We are continuing our blog on the War on Poverty and the Federal Legal Services Program with an emphasis on 40 years of federal legal services under the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). This series will examine each of the fundamental objectives for LSC set out in the Statement of Purpose of the LSC Act. Here we will focus on the objectives: to provide “high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel,” “to provide the most economical and effective delivery of legal assistance” and “to assist in improving opportunities for low-income persons.”


One of the great accomplishments of the federal legal services program, during both the OEO and LSC eras, has been the quality and effectiveness of the legal representation provided by the program and its advocates. Legal services representation successfully created new legal rights through judicial decisions and representation before legislative and administrative bodies. For example: legal services attorneys won landmark constitutional decisions such as Goldberg v. Kelly, which led to the due process revolution.

Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970), excerpt from The Burger Court Opinion Writing Database, George Washington University,

Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970), excerpt from The Burger Court Opinion Writing Database, George Washington University,

Equally significant were judicial decisions stimulated by creative advocacy by lawyers which expanded common law theories on retaliatory evictions and implied warranty of habitability. These insured that the poor could not be evicted from housing when the landlord failed to meet statutory and common law obligations Legal services attorneys also effectively enforced rights that were theoretically in existence but honored in the breach. Legal services representation ensured that federal law benefiting the poor was enforced on behalf of the poor. For example, legal services lawyers won Sullivan v. Zebley, the case providing SSI benefits to hundreds of thousands of families with disabled kids.

Perhaps most important, through sustained and effective legal services representation, public and private agencies and entities dealing with the poor were fundamentally changed. Legal services representation altered the court system by simplifying court procedures and rules so that they could be understood by, and made more accessible to, the poor. Legal services representation also forced the welfare and public housing bureaucracies, schools and hospitals to act according to a set of rules and laws and to treat the poor equitably and in a manner sensitive to their needs. And legal services programs have been on the forefront of the efforts to assist women subject to domestic violence.

Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Services to the Poor: Discussion Draft, December 1981. Washington, DC: NLADA, 1981.

Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Services to the Poor: Discussion Draft, December 1981. Washington, DC: NLADA, 1981.

Over the years, there have been significant efforts to develop standards and performance measures for civil legal aid. At the beginning of the 1980s, the legal services community began work on a long-term process to develop standards for providers of legal services to the poor.   This process culminated in 1986 in the adoption by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates of a set of written standards, Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Services to the Poor. These were aspirational standards for legal services providers and focused on processes that should be in place in programs to assure quality. They were not intended as a framework for specific performance measurement or program evaluation. They included neither a measurement process nor specific prescriptions for assessing levels of performance. Even so, some programs and some state funders have adapted these Standards as part of their efforts to evaluate the performance of staff or individual offices and units within the program.

Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Services to the Poor, ABA: SCLAID, 1986.

Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Services to the Poor, ABA: SCLAID, 1986.

In 1992, the Advisory Committee for LSC’s Comparative Demonstration Project began to develop a performance assessment approach for use in evaluating the programs participating in the demonstration project. The Comparative Demonstration Project was set up to compare the performance of LSC grantees. The Advisory Committee developed a set of Performance Criteria that were to be used in a peer review process. These criteria were originally developed to provide a framework for peer reviewers to use by peer reviewers in their inquiries. There were four major performance areas: (1) effectiveness in identifying and targeting resources on the most pressing needs of the low-income community; (2) effectiveness in engaging and serving the client community; (3) effectiveness of legal representation and other activities intended to benefit the low-income population in its service area; and (4) effectiveness of administration and governance. Each performance area set forth criteria to be considered in assessing the program’s performance in that area. Indicators and possible areas of inquiry were also included for each criterion to further guide the peer reviews in assessing program effectiveness.

LSC uses the Performance Criteria, as well as other reports and data sent to LSC by grantees, to periodically monitor all 134 grantees to ensure quality and economic and effective delivery. Unfortunately, the peer review process that LSC had initially developed was never fully implemented, in part because some Members of Congress criticized LSC for not focusing sufficient attention on monitoring for compliance. However, some state funders did develop a peer review system using the LSC Performance Criteria.

In 2006, the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) revised the ABA Standards for Provision of Civil Legal Aid. These revised Standards were adopted by the ABA House of Delegates at its August 2006 meeting. The revised Standards, for the first time, provide guidance on limited representation, legal advice, brief service, support for pro se activities, and the provision of legal information. The revised Standards also include new standards for diversity, cultural competence, and language competency. LSC has also completed a revision of the LSC Performance Criteria. See

Many civil legal aid programs have developed their own evaluation systems, which are designed to help individual programs perform better and to better market what they accomplish to state appropriators, funders, the public, and the press. Some programs have developed rigorous internal evaluation systems, including the use of outcome measurements, to evaluate whether they have accomplish what they set out to do for their clients. The programs have used a variety of creative techniques to conduct their outcome evaluations, including focus groups, client follow-up interviews; interviews of court and social service agency personnel, courtroom observation, and court case file review. In California, the Legal Services Trust Fund, which is the state IOLTA funder, and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) teamed up to support the development of a “tool kit” of program self-evaluation tools for use by programs as a part of the statewide system of evaluation. The Management Information Exchange’s (MIE) Technology Evaluation Project (TEP) also developed a set of tools—also referred to as a “tool kit”—that is available for programs to use to evaluate their Web sites and their use of video conferencing and legal work stations, which serve clients through “virtual law offices.”

Generally, outcome measures have not been used extensively, although five state IOLTA/state funding programs require their grantees to report on outcome measures. New York, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, and Arizona measure specific outcomes that could be achieved for clients in specific substantive areas, such as housing, and which focus primarily on the immediate result of a particular case or activity (such as “prevented an eviction”). These systems do not capture information on what ultimately happened to the client. All of these states use the information collected to report to their state legislatures and the public about what the grantees have accomplished with IOLTA and state funding.

However, there is renewed discussion about the use of outcome and performance measures and renewed initiatives to help programs to establish their own outcome measurement systems that are keyed to the outcomes the programs themselves have determined are relevant to their own program management objectives, and should develop templates and tools to assist grantees to set goals and measure outcomes. This approach will encourage programs to be deliberate about what they are trying to achieve and to develop systems to measure whether they are achieving what they set out to do. This approach would also begin to give LSC, IOLTA, other state funders, Access to Justice (ATJ) Commissions, and private foundations information about what the programs are doing and how well they are doing it, and it would provide LSC and other funders with a laboratory to learn what works and does not work to improve program quality and effectiveness.

Furthermore, we will see new data collection systems that will give funders data that will help them make the case for increased funding and ensure accountability to Congress and other government funders. The current data collected by LSC and most other funders is not sufficient to explain the breadth of actual services legal aid programs provide or to review quality, efficiency and effectiveness. That is why LSC has moved forward with a project funded by the Public Welfare Foundation designed to improve LSC’s data collection and reporting mecha­nisms, to educate LSC grantees about collection, analysis, and use of data, and to require grantees to establish their own outcome measures to improve program performance.

Finally, NLADA established a staffed initiative to direct its on-going efforts to support and improve the quality and impact of civil legal aid programs. First, to make existing research easily accessible and understandable to busy administrators and lawyers within civil legal aid programs, NLADA created a blog-database – – that captures the information about successful evidence-based practices and the results of research and posts those findings in an easily accessible web-based format. A second initiative (Strategic Advocacy for Lasting Results or SALR) provides direct assistance to member programs to help strengthen the quality and impact of services to clients and low-income communities.

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.