Category Archives: Research

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, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/249776.pdf

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.

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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.

References:

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.

A new collection of essays on the rise of the carceral state in the U.S.

The latest special issue of the Journal of American History (vol. 102, issue 1, 2015) is on Historians and the Carceral State. Most of the essays focus on the expansion of the carceral state in the United States during the twentieth century: how undocumented Latino immigrants have become the largest population in the federal prison system to U.S. policing abroad; how African American women have been over-incarcerated for protecting themselves against rape and domestic violence; on the role of white suburban drug use and the crack epidemic in the “war on drugs;” how prison building drove the political economy of the sun belt, and on the impact of prisoner and antipolice brutality activism on gay rights and the Chicano and African American freedom movements. The volume also includes an essay by Elizabeth Hinton: A War within Our Own Boundaries”: Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Rise of the Carceral State.

All essays are available online, at no charge, from the JAH website.

2014 Report: The Right To Legal Aid

2014 Report: The Right To Legal Aid: How British Columbia’s Legal Aid System Fails to Meet International Human Rights Obligations. Report by Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, 2014.

Note: The NEJL is collecting bibliographic references and links to this and other recent publications on civil legal aid and indigent defense, which can be accessed online for no charge.

Legal Aid 1900 to 1930: What Happened to Law Reform?

[Cross-posted from the Legal History blog]

Mark Spiegel, Boston College Law School (and a former Reggie), has posted Legal Aid 1900 to 1930: What Happened to Law Reform? which is forthcoming in the DePaul Journal for Social Justice:

This article offers a counter narrative to the conventional description of legal aid in the United States. By offering this counter narrative it focuses us on certain enduring difficulties that any legal aid or legal services program has to face if it wants to engage in reform efforts: problems of funding and problems of the social and historical context. Conventional wisdom has it that legal aid until the 1960s was largely devoted to individual cases and that it was not until the advent of federally-funded legal services that law reform and social change became part of the delivery of legal services to the poor. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, there is another story. As this article demonstrates, there was an aspiration toward using the legal system aggressively to achieve social justice during the period 1900 to roughly 1920. This changed during the 1920s.

In presenting this counter-narrative, this article first looks at legal aid during the period 1900-1920 to support the thesis that during this period legal aid aspired toward using the legal system to achieve social justice. It then looks at that next decade, the 1920s, and describes how legal aid became the kind of organization that conventional wisdom describes: a legal aid organization devoted almost solely to individual cases with a large focus on domestic relations practice and abandoning any attempt to use law to achieve social justice. More importantly, this article explores why this change to a more traditional type of legal aid occurred. The most interesting theories blame Reginald Heber Smith and the American Bar Association. Smith is blamed because of his alleged emphasis on access to justice in a landmark study of legal aid called “Justice and the Poor” published in 1919. The ABA is blamed because of the alleged “takeover” of legal aid by the conservative bar in the 1920’s, enabled by the ABA’s establishment of a standing committee on legal aid. These theories, however, are too reductionist and overlook two more important explanations for this retreat from law reform: the need for funding and the social and historical context. These explanations are significant not only because they shed light on a neglected part of our past, but because they connect that past to issues that persist until today.

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.

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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.

Extended Deadline, Call-for-Papers: “Poverty Law: Academic Activism,” Seattle University, Feb. 19-20, 2016

[Cross-posted from the Poverty Law blog]

Extended Deadline, Call-for-Papers: “Poverty Law: Academic Activism,” Seattle University, Feb. 19-20, 2016.  Deadline for submissions extended to July 1, 2015.  Full information here: Poverty Law Conference 2016 Call-for-Proposals Extended Deadline.

The Continuation Until 1996 of LSC Funded Support

By Alan Houseman

[Part 12 of the series on the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation, Support: p. 5]

This is the fifth in a 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 the time between 1985 and 1996 and the ultimate Congressional action that eliminated funding for 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.

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In 1985, the support structure consisted of 17 national support centers, state support centers or units in each state, five Regional Training Centers, six computer assisted legal research projects, and the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, which published the Clearinghouse Review.

Between 1985 and 1996, the support structure came under continuing but unsuccessful attack from critics of legal services and some members of the Board of LSC. These critics saw the support structure as the engine that drove legal service into class actions, major litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy and the glue that held together a coordinated, cohesive advocacy network to challenge the status quo. In September of 1987, the LSC Board voted to request that Congress not provide funds for national and state support, regional training centers, computer assisted legal research projects and the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services. Congress rejected this proposal, and, indeed, became very irritated at LSC for making such a proposal.

To protect support as well as other components of the legal services delivery system under attack (e.g., migrant and Native American programs), Congress, led by Senator Warren Rudman and beginning with the 1987 appropriation for LSC, specifically earmarked funding for support components. For example, Public Law 99-500, (October 18, 1986), the 1987 appropriation of $305,500,000 for LSC provided: $623,964 for regional training centers; $7,528,218 for national support; $7,842,866 for state support; $865,000 for the Clearinghouse; and $510,444 for computer assisted legal research grants. This earmarking continued until the 1996 appropriation.

Although LSC attempted to defund several national support centers (e.g., Migrant Legal Action Program, National Center for Youth Law), the only successful defunding was of National Social Science & Law Project, located in Washington, D.C. All of the other 16 remained funded until 1996. Similarly no state support center was defunded, although LSC unsuccessfully attempted to defund the Western Center on Law and Poverty because of its advocacy activities around a California election proposition on tax limits (Proposition 13).

As noted in the last blog on support, numerous LSC studies attempted to examine support throughout the 1980s, but none were successful in eliminating support. Two non-LSC studies were done on state support. The Management Project of NLADA commissioned a paper on state support completed by Erica Black Grubb in November of 1983, The Role of State Support in Delivering High Quality, Cost-Effective Legal Services to Low Income Clients. The National Organization of State Support Units did a subsequent study in 1991 entitled The Challenge of Leadership: Providing State Support Services in the 1990s. A shorter version of the report was included in an article by Daniel M. Taubman, “The Role of State Support Centers in the 1990s and Beyond,” 25 Clearinghouse Rev. 75 (Special Issue 1992).    

During this period, NLADA organized a number of conferences for state support staff to help state support build on successful initiatives among the various states and improve state level advocacy. Regional training centers met periodically to improve training and learn from each other. National support centers gathered at national NLADA conferences to share experiences and successful activities. While LSC remained hostile or indifferent until the Clinton board took over in 1993, the support entities themselves, working with NLADA, continued to focus on support and to build cohesive state and national networks of advocates.

In 1994, the Delivery Working Group (of the Project Advisory Group and NLADA) completed a comprehensive review of support that was presented to the LSC Board for its consideration just after the 1994 Congressional elections. That study set out eight core functions of state and national support:

  1. Advocacy: State and national support centers conduct advocacy directly as sole or co-counsel at state and national levels and are the focal points for such advocacy efforts because the two primary judicial, legislative, and administrative systems are centered at the state and federal levels.
  2. Coordination of and assistance to advocacy of others: Providing help to others in the Legal Services system who are doing advocacy, rather than doing it directly.
  3.  Management, administrative and organizational assistance, coordination, and development: Providing a variety of help to Legal Services programs and their administrative staff at both state (where there are at least two field programs distinct from the state support center) and national levels.
  4. Information dissemination to and sharing with staff, case handlers, and board members: state and national support centers are primary information distribution points.
  5.  Information dissemination to and sharing with the low-income client-eligible community: A central role of all Legal Services programs – and therefore of support – is to provide information to client-eligible people so that they may be relatively more empowered and may seek, wherever possible, to help themselves. The nature of support’s involvement in this activity will vary according to the pattern of involvement of other Legal Services programs and non-LSC entities for the particular substantive area, client population, or state.
  6. Conducting and assisting necessary training
  7.  Resource development: At both the state and national levels, support can play an important part in helping develop new sources of revenue for Legal Services.
  8. Preserving and strengthening Legal Services as an institution: National and state support, given their leadership responsibilities, can collectively be responsible for advancing Legal Services’ reputation and stature, preserving its independence, maintaining its integrity, and insuring its strength.

The LSC Board was to begin consideration of what to do to expand support in 1995, but by then there was a new Congress and a new political environment. The 1995 Appropriation for LSC (Pub. L. 103-317, August5 26, 1994) increased LSC funding to $415,000,000 and continued the earmarked funding for the various categories of support. This was the last time there would be annualized support funding through LSC.

With the 1994 congressional elections, LSC suffered a dramatic reversal of political fortune. Conservatives included the elimination of LSC in the infamous “Contract for America.” In much the same way as the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s, the leadership of the new Congress, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), committed itself to the elimination of LSC and ending federal funding for legal services. The House leadership sought to replace LSC with a system of limited block grants to the states that would severely restrict the kind of services for which the funds could be used. The House of Representatives adopted a budget plan that assumed that LSC’s funding would be cut by one-third for FY 1996, another third in FY 1997, and completely eliminated thereafter. Opponents of legal services dubbed this funding plan “the glide path to elimination.”

Despite the efforts of the House leadership, a bipartisan majority in the Congress, led by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), remained committed to maintaining a federally funded legal services program. Nevertheless, key congressional decision-makers, led by Congressmen Bill McCollum (R-FL) and Charles Stenholm (D-TX), determined that major “reforms” in the delivery system would be required if the program was to survive. The 1996 Appropriation for LSC (Pub. L. 104-134, April 26, 1996) incorporated these reforms. Grants were to be awarded through a system of competition, rather than through presumptive refunding of current recipients. Funding was to be distributed on a strict, census-based formula, eliminating any LSC discretion over funding amounts. More fundamentally, the Congressional majority was determined to redefine the role of federally funded legal services by refocusing legal services advocacy away from law reform, lobbying, policy advocacy, and impact litigation and toward basic representation of individual clients. Congress set out to accomplish this goal by restricting the broad range of activities that programs had engaged in since the early days of OEO, many of which had been mandated in the past. These restrictions are described in the earlier blog on Restrictions. Most significantly, Congress eliminated LSC funding for national and state support centers, the National Clearinghouse which published the Clearinghouse Review, regional training centers and computer assisted legal research centers.

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.