College Columns May 2018 - Page 14

Book Review

To Establish Justice for All

The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States

by Earl Johnson, Jr.

Review by James Baillie, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.

Corporation.” Fortunately, Congress restored the funding. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing issue. As lawyers we want to understand how our poverty law legal services delivery system works to provide legal services, or not, to those who cannot afford to hire attorneys. Indeed, Rule 6.1 of our Rules of Professional Conduct requires that we support programs that provide those services. A new book provides us a comprehensive history of that topic and one that is timely to the funding crisis once again at hand.

In the United States, a large part of the delivery system is “legal aid” or “legal services,” terms used to describe programs that principally use full-time lawyers and are designed to be the law firms for the poverty population. Really understanding the delivery system, and its funding, is daunting. A recent book is the definitive work on the topic. To Establish Justice for All by Earl Johnson, Jr. is a long (three volume, 933 pages) but engrossing history presented by someone who was in the middle of many of the most important parts of that history. He was a leader in the earliest efforts to create and fund LSC, and at many of the later critical times, before he became a judge on the California Court of Appeal and a professor at the University of Southern California Law School.

Earl Johnson (a hero to me and someone I got to know fairly well) covers the beginning of the legal aid movement in the United States from the first immigrant law society in 1876 and then on to the local legal aid organizations many of which sprung up during the early years of the 20th century. Most were funded by local charities.

The big change came in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson sought to achieve the great society through the “War on Poverty.” Earl Johnson was an early director of one of those initiatives, the Office of Economic Opportunity Legal Services Program. Some of the new federal funding for legal services went to experimental programs; other funding went to the established local programs which were then able to increase staffing. Next, in 1974, came the national Legal Services Corporation (LSC) with presidential appointments to its board (supposedly equal for each party) and congressional restrictions on the amount of uses of the funding. The LSC funding became the largest part of funding for the local legal aid programs nearly everywhere. The main part of this book recounts in great detail the political battles over that funding.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan campaigned to kill LSC. The book explains why – agricultural growers. Among the most successful of the new experimental poverty law programs was California Rural Legal Services which represented farm workers in asserting their rights under federal law. The growers, who were constantly in violation of the federal laws protecting farm workers, lost nearly all of their cases in court. They took their case to their governor, Ronald Reagan, who brought that issue with him to the presidency.

When the local legal aid programs were threatened with the loss of funding, they were supported by the organized bar. Early notable support occurred in the national “March on Washington” in 1981 in which with ABA leadership state and local bar leaders converged on Washington to urge continuing support for LSC. At the same time bar associations in many states went into full crisis mode to address the problem, to look for alternative funding, and develop alternative ways of delivering services.

The outcome of the debate in Congress in 1981


President Trump’s budget this year would have defunded the National Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Our College leadership recently issued its “Statement of the American College of Bankruptcy in Support of Federal Funding for the Legal Services