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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Legal Services Corporation

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a private, non-profit corporation established by the United States Congress to seek to ensure equal access to justice under the law for all Americans by providing civil legal assistance to those who otherwise would be unable to afford it. The LSC was created in 1974 with bipartisan congressional sponsorship and the support of the Nixon administration, and is funded through the congressional appropriations process.

LSC is one of the organizational descendants of the former Office of Economic Opportunity.

LSC was strongly opposed by some political groups. LSC funding was at a high mark, in inflation adjusted dollars, in 1980, under chair Hillary Rodham,[1] who had been appointed at the end of 1977 by President Jimmy Carter. When President Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, he attempted to undercut the LSC, attempting to have Congress reduce funding on a national basis and tried to appoint lawyers to the LSC who were against financial aide for the poor.[1] Rodham hired fellow Rose Law Firm associate Vince Foster to seek a restraining order against Reagan, with success; his nominees were prohibited from meeting with the Legal Service Corporation before confirmation.[1] Rodham prodded Senate Deomcrats to vote against Reagan's conservative nominees. The nominees were rejected and Reagan was forced to name more moderate members.

Shifts in Funding

Subsequently President Reagan pushed through a huge funding cut and additional restrictions on LSC grantees. In 1996, when the Republican party took over Congress, LSC had its funded cut again and a new set of much more extensive restrictions were added to LSC grantees.

As part of a comprehensive "reform" of federal welfare laws beginning in 1996, Congress imposed restrictions on the types of work that LSC grantee legal services organizations could engage in. For example, LSC-funded organizations could no longer serve as counsel in class action lawsuits challenging the way public benefits are administered. Additionally, LSC grantees faced tightened restrictions on representing immigrants. However, non-LSC funded organizations are not subject to these restrictions. This has led the legal services community to adopt a two-track approach: LSC restricted counsel taking on individual clients but not engaging in class actions, and non-restricted counsel (using private donor funding) both taking on individuals as well as engaging in otherwise restricted litigation. Poverty lawyers in both tracks still work together where they can, being careful not to run afoul of LSC restrictions.

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