Category Archives: Oral history interviews

Featured resource: Oral history interview with Howard Westwood

westwood_ohThe digitized recording of the oral history interview with Howard Westwood (1909-1994), conducted by Clint Bamberger on Oct. 6th, 1992, is now available online. Howard Westwood, one of the pioneers and leaders of the modern legal aid movement, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, attended Swarthmore College, and received a law degree from Columbia University in 1933. He was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harlan F. Stone for a year before he joined Covington & Burling in 1934. In the 1950s, Westwood joined the Commission on Legal Aid of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, which initiated a report on the legal aid needs in D.C. The report, published in 1958, was one of the “very key documents in the history of the development of legal aid in the United States,” said Westwood. In the interview, he recalled the efforts to establish the Legal Aid Agency in D.C., the predecessor to the Public Defender Service for D.C., with the support of the Judicial Conference under the leadership of Judge Prettyman. The initial hope was to establish an agency that would represent clients in criminal as well as civil cases. Westwood also supported the establishment of the neighborhood legal services program in Washington, D.C. under the umbrella of the United Planning Organization, which was founded in 1964 with funding from the Ford Foundation. Westwood recalled the tensions between the traditional legal aid society in Washington, D.C. and the new neighborhood legal services program, which aimed at much broader social reforms.

Chart of the NSLP, Washington, DC. Photographer: unknown. Reproduction from: Guidelines for Legal Services Programs, Community Action Program: Office of Economic Opportunity, Washington, DC, 1967. National Equal Justice Library, Georgetown Law Library.

In 1965, Westwood helped facilitate the cooperation between the ABA and the NLADA to support the establishment of a federally funded legal services program. It was Howard Westwood who suggested that Clint Bamberger should be nominated as the first director of the OEO-LSP. Westwood continued to remain on the board of the NLSP, and worked as counsel for NLADA, where he advocated for the ongoing federal support of the legal services program. Westwood, a specialist in aviation law, retired from Covington & Burling in 1979. Westwood was awarded the “Servant of Justice” Award in 1992.

The interview with Howard Westwood is available through Digital Georgetown.

Katharina Hering

Oral history interview with Clint Bamberger available online

bamberger_ohThe interview with Clinton (“Clint”) Bamberger was conducted by Christopher Brown on June 4, 2002 on behalf of the National Equal Justice Library Oral History Project. After graduating from Loyola College (Baltimore) in 1949 and from Georgetown University Law Center with a J.D. in 1951, Bamberger worked for the Baltimore firm of Piper & Marbury, where he became a partner in 1960. While at Piper & Marbury, he was involved in insurance litigation and also served as the attorney for death row inmate John L. Brady in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), in which the Supreme Court ruled that withholding exculpatory evidence from the defendant violated the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Bamberger recalls how he became involved in the case through a friend, a Jesuit priest who served as chaplain in the Maryland penitentiary, who asked him to look into the case a few weeks before John Brady’s execution had been scheduled. It was the first time Bamberger argued a case before the Supreme Court. While he lost the case (the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals of Maryland), Brady’s life was saved, and the precedent for the Brady disclosure established.


Press conference announcing the Houston Legal Services Program, April 1966: Sargent Shriver with Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and Clinton Bamberger (front). Photographer unknown. Clinton Bamberger photo collection, National Equal Justice Library, Georgetown Law Library.

In response to the question how he got from the small Baltimore law firm of Piper and Marbury to become the director of the national legal services program, Bamberger remarks that, “it was kind of a different time than it is now; that major lawyers, leaders of major law firms, were publicly involved in the… major social questions of that time – which was civil rights.” Bamberger had done some public interest and legal aid work in Baltimore, and been following the effort to establish a federal program to provide financial support for civil legal services to the poor. He decided to attend the ABA meeting in 1965, where part of the program was focused on discussing the federally funded legal services program. There, he met Kenneth Pye, who was then associate dean at Georgetown. Pye introduced him to Howard Westwood, who was then a partner at Covington & Burling, who was very involved in the legal aid movement, who helped recruit Bamberger to become the first Director of the Legal Services Program (LSP) within the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). What the program needed was “somebody who would disarm any opposition in the organized bar,” he said. While at OEO/LSP Bamberger spent much time delivering speeches, attempting to garner support for the new government program at various Bar meetings. “While the ABA was supportive there was a lot of opposition at the local level.” Some of the opposition came from some of the older legal aid societies, who were concerned about the effects of the new program on their established structures, and troubled by the grassroots components of the Community Action Programs, especially the provision in the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act that programs should be developed with the “maximum feasible participation of residents of the areas and members of the groups served.”  Under his leadership, the OEO-LSP expanded rapidly. In mid-1966, Bamberger left the program to run for State Attorney General of Maryland. That campaign was unsuccessful and Bamberger returned to Piper & Marbury until 1969. There, he continued to be active in legal services work and was on the recruitment committee for the Reginald Heber Smith fellowships.

In 1969, Bamberger became Dean of the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, where he established one of the first clinical programs in the country, and taught Civil Procedure and Professional Responsibility. In 1975, Bamberger left Catholic University to become the Executive Vice President of the Legal Services Corporation. Maintaining that he had spent much time as a legal services bureaucrat and advocate, and never as a legal services attorney, Bamberger left the Legal Services Corporation in 1979 to become a staff attorney and clinical instructor at the Legal Services Institute (LSI) in Boston, where he worked closely with Gary Bellow and Jeanne Charn. Controversy and politics surrounding LSI forced Bamberger’s departure. In 1982, Bamberger became Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Education at the School of Law of the University of Maryland. While at the University of Maryland, he served as the attorney for Denise Sampson in Ronald Fishkind Realty v. Sampson, 306 Md. 269, 286, 508 A.2d 478, 487 (1986). Bamberger became very involved in international legal aid, especially in South Africa, Australia, Nepal, and the Netherlands, and frequently traveled abroad, lecturing about international legal aid and clinical education. He retired emeritus from the University of Maryland in 1991.

In addition to the oral history interview, the NEJL collections include the Clinton Bamberger Papers, a rich resource of many unique materials documenting Bamberger’s career, as well as the development of legal services since the 1960s.

Katharina Hering

Oral history interview with Edgar Cahn available online

edgar_cahn_2002_ohIn the 2002 oral history interview with Edgar Cahn, which Alan Houseman conducted on behalf of the National Equal Justice Library Oral History Project, Edgar Cahn recalls how he met Jean Camper at Swarthmore. She was the daughter of Dr. John E. T. Camper, a prominent African American physician in Baltimore who had founded the city’s first chapter of the NAACP. The two married, and Edgar Cahn eventually followed Jean at Yale Law School after he received his PhD in English (she graduated in 1961 and he graduated in 1963).

Cahn’s involvement with legal services started during his first year of law school, when he worked as an intern for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) with Wilbur Cohen, David Hackett and Robert Kennedy. During his second year of law school, he worked as a speech writer for Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. In the meantime, New Haven had been tapped by the Ford Foundation as a city for one of the first Gray Area programs (the Cahns knew the Ford Foundation’s Paul Ylvisaker from their studies at Swarthmore). Jean Camper Cahn started to work as associate counsel for the Redevelopment Agency in New Haven and was asked to draw the corporate papers for the Community Progress Inc., a community development organization funded by the Ford Foundation that undertook the development of different neighborhoods. “These were days when law was being used as a means of social development, at the same time, obviously, that the civil rights movement was going on full tilt in the ‘60s,” says Cahn. One of the central questions they were concerned with was how they could “amplify the voices of those who are powerless and who are disenfranchised,” says Cahn. “Couldn’t we create a neighborhood law office that could act as a vehicle to amplify those voices?” Because it wouldn’t be the lawyer’s voice. It would be the client’s voice, but it would be the lawyer using a constitutionally protected role.”

The Cahns’ work on legal services in disadvantaged communities and on neighborhood law offices formed the basis of their landmark 1964 article for the Yale Law Journal, “The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective,” which laid out a vision for legal services for the subsequent generations, and proposed a national system of legal services to the poor. CP1964Edgar Cahn recalls how they completed their work on the article after they had moved to Washington, D.C., where Edgar Cahn worked as special counsel to the attorney general, and Jean Cahn worked at the State Department as the first African American woman at the Africa desk. Edgar Cahn recalls their close collaboration with Gary Bellow while they were working on the article. Bellow had called him up after reading one of the Xeroxed underground copies of the draft that were circulating. “And so we sat down around the table many nights trying to think through what an institution that hadn’t been born would look like: What kinds of decisions it would have to make about cases it would take. What kinds of functions it would play. Would it get involved in criminal law or just in civil law? Would it get involved in test case? Would it be a corporate lawyer, so to speak, for groups of poor people who wanted to incorporate in tenants associations? And we benefited enormously from his insights, his experience, and just sort of the brainstorming that went back and forth,” says Cahn. (Cahn invited Bellow to serve as a co-author, but Bellow declined.) Edgar Cahn continued to work as special counsel to Sargent Shriver, and wrote speeches for Shriver, Robert Kennedy, and Nick Katzenbach, which gave him the unique opportunity to give a public voice to the discussion about a federally funded legal services program.

Cahn also discusses the preparation of the 1964 HEW conference on the Extension of Legal Services to the Poor, and its significance. He touches on controversies with the American Bar Association and the NLADA over legal aid funding, and recalls the process of establishing the Antioch School of Law in 1972, which emphasized public interest law. The school was closed in 1988, but its legacy continues at the University of the District of Columbia’s Clarke School of Law where Edgar Cahn is Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Jean Cahn died in 1991.

Katharina Hering

1991 oral history interview with Hillary Rodham Clinton available online

H_Rodham_Clinton_1991_NEJL_OHIn the videotaped interview, which was conducted by Victor Geminiani in 1991 on behalf of the National Equal Justice Library Oral History Project, Hillary Rodham Clinton recalls her education and career working for legal services from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. Ms. Rodham Clinton got involved with legal services while she was a law student at Yale, where she started volunteering for the New Haven Legal Services organization, one of the first Ford Foundation “Gray Area” model projects. After graduating in 1973, she started working full time as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, which was founded by Marian Wright Edelman, a fellow Yale graduate whom she had met during her first months in law school. Hillary Rodham had interned for the Washington Research Project, CDF’s parent body, during law school. At CDF, she worked on education and juvenile justice law reform, allowing her to combine her “legal interests and public policy interests.”

In early 1974, Hillary Rodham accepted an offer by John Doar to work on the President Nixon impeachment inquiry staff in Washington, D.C. along with several other young lawyers. After President Nixon’s resignation on August 8th, 1974, she followed Bill Clinton, whom she had been dating, to Arkansas, where he had started teaching at the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville. She got a job at the same law school, and started teaching in the fall of 1974. The dean had asked her to teach criminal law, run a legal aid clinic, and a project providing legal assistance to prisoners in the federal and state penitentiaries. In the interview, she recalled the efforts to gain support for the school’s legal aid program from the Arkansas Bar Association, and the difficulties that legal aid programs in Arkansas faced at the time. After gaining better support for the school’s legal aid program from the Bar Association, she submitted an application to receive federal funding through the Legal Services Corporation. The application was successful, and the program eventually became the Ozark Legal Services. In 1975, she was appointed to the Arkansas State Advisory Committee for the LSC, where she worked on the state-wide expansion of legal services. President Carter appointed Mrs. Rodham Clinton to the LSC Board in 1977 (both she and her husband had worked on Carter’s campaign), and she succeeded Roger C. Cramton as Chairperson of the LSC Board in 1978 and served in this capacity until 1981.

During her tenure at the LSC, the budget increased from $96 million during the President Ford administration to over $300 million. The board oversaw the LSC under the presidents Thomas Ehrlich and Dan Bradley during the rapid expansion of legal services into many previously underserved areas, building a broad, yet solid infrastructure. Tied to the expansion, the board worked on improving access to legal services, and focused on quality, ensuring that delivery systems were the best ones available. During this period, the LSC oversaw the 1007 (h) study, which was mandated by Congress to research the access problems of particular constituency groups such as Native Americans, and initiated the Delivery Systems Study, which analyzed a variety of different systems for the delivery of legal services.

The real strength of the program has been the way it “responded to a very significant need in society,” but did so in an “effective and professional manner,” Rodham Clinton emphasized, so that it was able to withstand the political pressures the federally funded program faced throughout much of its history. She concluded the interview by expressing the hope that the program will continue to grow, and that there will be a lot of room for new people and new ideas, while legal services advocates continue to ask the hard questions: “What’s our purpose, how are we doing it, are we doing it the best way we can, are we meeting our clients’ needs?”

The original interview was recorded on VHS. The full-length digitized interview, which also includes a transcript, is part of the NEJL oral history collection.

Katharina Hering

Oral history interview with Gary Bellow available online

G_Bellow_NEJL_OH_1999In the wonderful oral history interview with Gary Bellow (1935-2000), which Zona Hostetler conducted in 1999 on behalf of the NEJL Oral History Project, Bellow recalled how his involvement in legal services was sparked by his interest in criminal defense. After graduating from Harvard in 1960, he received a Ford Foundation fellowship to study criminal law at Northwestern University, where he became friends with Earl Johnson Jr., who was studying in the same program. “I was curious, and I wanted to see how the world really worked, and so I went every place.” After a stint in the army, and hitchhiking across the U.S. twice, Bellow came to work for the Legal Aid Agency in the District of Columbia. The Legal Aid Agency was the predecessor to the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, which was established by statute in 1960. He worked as an investigator first, and then as a lawyer. During his time there, the agency underwent a dramatic transformation. When he joined in 1962, they had never gotten an acquittal, and his experience was to “find a way to resist this culture that forced everything into plea bargain.” But the agency started to “aggressively assert the rights of criminal defense.” They managed to reduce the caseload, the attorneys became much bolder, and soon they “were running acquittal after acquittal.” Bellow acknowledged his debt to Ken Pye and George Shadoan, the first administrators of the Georgetown’s Prettyman program, which was established in 1960. Interns from the Prettyman program provided critical assistance to the agency, and handled about one sixth of the trials by the mid 1960s.

Bellow became interested in civil matters by visiting the houses of defendants, where he saw life experiences that moved him, and “nothing was being done.” Working on the civil side might be “a better vehicle for bringing about change,” he thought. CP1964In 1963, his friend Dan Freed gave him a draft of the article of Jean and Edgar Cahn, whom he didn’t know. He liked the article, called up Edgar Cahn, and started collaborating with the Cahn’s, working through the article, and helping to devise a strategy for getting the new OEO to fund legal services. acknowledgmentDespite Bellow’s skepticism, the Cahn’s managed to get the support of the leadership of the private Bar for federal support of the legal services program. Bellow recalls the tensions between the community action perspective, and the established Bar leadership. Sargent Shriver was “guiding this merger of young critics and this big-firm Bar leadership,” which was needed to support the legal services program. In 1965, Gary Bellow became Deputy Director of the United Planning Organization (UPO), Washington’s Community Action Program, where he stayed for about one year. They worked on improving public housing in D.C., and began with welfare rights organizing. While working at UPO, E. Clinton Bamberger Jr. asked him to join the Office of Economic Opportunity-Legal Services Program as its Deputy Director, but Bellow decided to stay with UPO.


CRLA entrance, ca. 1969-70. Photo: Alfred Corbett. Alfred Corbett Papers, NEJL.

In 1966, Gary Bellow left UPO to work with Jim Lorenz at California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), where they collaborated closely with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers on community organizing and legal assistance for migrant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley. Despite the massive opposition by Governor Ronald Reagan, the state Bar, and several county Bar associations, the OEO continued funding of the CRLA. One of the principles of the CRLA was to involve clients as strategic partners in pursuing their cases, and Bellow became increasingly involved in teaching and group organizing. Collective action served as a powerful organizing and recruitment tool, and “it is no accident that in the 1974 Legal Services Act organizing was prohibited,” Bellow said. “We became increasingly controversial, but I learned about delivery.” Bellow then worked for the United Farm Workers on legal cases and in 1969 was recruited by the University of Southern California School of Law to develop a clinical legal services program. While at USC School of Law, Bellow continued to work as a lawyer, and — encouraged by Cesar Chavez — became counsel to the Black Panther Party. In 1971, he returned to Harvard, where he established the school’s major legal clinic. Later, he and Jeanne Charn initiated the Legal Services Institute, which provided legal services for poor and low-income clients, while offering continuing clinical education for law students and practicing attorneys. During his time at Harvard and under his leadership, the clinical programs at the school expanded, and Bellow always emphasized the importance of clinical education for the legal services movement, as well as the need for law schools to train students in the “hard lawyering work” of providing legal services to the poor.

The interview offers a wonderful opportunity to engage with Gary Bellow’s wide range of experiences and his broad vision of legal services, and learn from his unique perspective on legal anti-poverty work, drawing on theory as much as on practice, and combining sober assessments of the challenges and failures of the legal services movement with hope and inspiration for new generations of anti-poverty advocates and activists.

The interview is available as a streaming mp4 file.

A 1964 radio interview with Gary Bellow by Richard D. Capparella on the “Role of the Lawyer and the Problem of Poverty” is also available through Digital Georgetown.

Katharina Hering