Legal Services Corporation

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a private, non-profit corporation established by the United States Congress. It seeks 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 has a board of eleven directors, appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate, that set LSC policy. By law the board is bipartisan; no more than six can come from the same party.[1] LSC has a president and other officers who implement those policies and oversee the corporation's operations.[2]

For 2007, LSC had a budget of some $350 million to allow the federal government to provide civil legal aid.[3]




LSC is one of the organizational descendants of the former Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).[4] The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, a key part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society vision, established the OEO. From 1965 on, starting with a budget of $1 million,[4] the OEO created 269 local legal services programs around the country,[5] such as California Rural Legal Assistance,[5] which made a name for themselves suing local officials and sometimes stirring up resentment against their federal funding.[5]

By the early 1970s the Nixon administration began dismantling the OEO; funding for legal services for the poor began to wither, and supporters looked for an alternative arrangement.[5] In 1971 a bipartisan congressional group, including Senators Ted Kennedy, William A. Steiger, and Walter Mondale, proposed a national, independent Legal Services Corporation;[6] at the same time, administration officials such as Attorney General John N. Mitchell and chief domestic advisor John Ehrlichman were proposing their own somewhat similar solution.[6]

Creation and the Ford era

The idea behind the LSC was to create a new corporate entity that would be funded by Congress but run independently, with eleven board members to be appointed by the president subject to senate confirmation.[5]

LSC was created by the LSC Act of Congress in 1974.[7] The LSC Act contains certain rules and restrictions regarding what LSC grantees can do.[7] The initial budget was set at $90 million.[4]

Naming and confirmation of the first LSC board was delayed by inaction and opposition,[5] but by July 1975 President Gerald R. Ford had named, and the Senate approved, the first board, with Cornell University Law School Dean Roger Conant Cramton as its first chair.[5] Debate existed from the start among the board members as to whether LSC's role should be the OEO's one of using lawsuits and other means to attack broad underlying difficulties of the poor, or whether the focus should be more narrowly defined to addressing small, specific situations.[4][5] The LSC Act said that the organization was to pursue "equal access to justice," but Cramton wrote that while the law was intended to proscribe the blatantly political objects of the 1960s OEO work, it was worded ambiguously.[4]

The Carter era

In December 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Hillary Rodham to the board of directors of the LSC,[8] for a term to expire in July 1980.[8] Rodham, an attorney with Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas and the wife of Arkansas Attorney General Bill Clinton, had a background in children's law and policy and had worked in providing legal services for the poor while at Yale Law School. She had also done 1976 campaign coordination work for Carter in Indiana.[9][10] This was a recess appointment, so Rodham took her place on the board without immediate Senate confirmation. Rodham was nominated again in January 1978 as a regular appointment.[11] In mid-1978, the Carter administration chose the thirty-year-old Rodham to became chair of the board, the first woman to become so.[4] The position entailed her traveling monthly from Arkansas to Washington, D.C. for two-day meetings.[4]

During Rodham's Senate confirmation hearings, she subscribed to the philosophy that LSC should seek to reform laws and regulations that it viewed as "unresponsive to the needs of the poor."[12] Rodham was successful in getting increases in Congressional funding for LSC, stressing its usual role in providing low-income people with attorneys to assist them in commonplace legal issues and framed its funding as being neither a liberal nor a conservative cause.[13] By her third year on the LSC board, Rodham had gotten the LSC budget tripled.[14] Opposition to LSC during this time came from both Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, who favored a "judicare" approach of compensating private lawyers for work done for the poor,[14] and Conservative Caucus head Howard Phillips, who objected to LSC representing gays.[14]

LSC funding was at its highest-ever mark, in inflation adjusted dollars, in fiscal 1980,[10][15] with a budget of $303 million.[16] Some 6,200 poverty lawyers filed suits using its funds on behalf of 1.5 million eligible poor clients;[17] the lawyers won almost 80 percent of their cases, which mostly involved divorces, evictions, repossessions, and interrupted payments from federal agencies.[17] For fiscal 1981 it was budgeted at $321 million.[18]

In June 1980, Carter renominated Rodham for another term on the board, to expire in July 1983.[19] Sometime between about April 1980[20] and September 1980,[21] F. William McCalpin replaced her as chair of the board. He would remain chair through late 1981.[22][23][24]

The Reagan era

LSC was strongly opposed by some political groups. As Governor of California in the 1960s, Ronald Reagan had advocated elimination of all federal subsidies for free legal services to the poor in civil cases,[17] and had tried to block a grant to California Rural Legal Assistance in 1970.[17] Indeed Time magazine would state, "Of all the social programs growing out of the Great Society, there is none that Ronald Reagan dislikes more than the Legal Services Corporation."[18] CRLA's executive director would characterize Reagan's attitude towards the organization as akin to that of Darth Vader.[18]

When President Reagan took office in January 1981, he attempted to eliminate the LSC by zero funding it.[17] Supporters of LSC rallied to defend it; American Bar Association president W. Reece Smith Jr. led 200 lawyers to Washington to press its case.[15] The U.S. House Judiciary Committee blocked Reagan's zero-funding action in May 1981,[25] but did cut financing to $260 million for both of the next two years as well as place additional restrictions on LSC lawyers.[25] By the following month, the now Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee had cut proposed financing to $100 million,[26] as part of what The New York Times deemed an "increasingly bitter ideological struggle".[26] Moreover, Reagan administration officials accused LSC of having "concealed and understated" its lobbying activity and support for politically-motivated legislation.[26]

In November 1981, the Reagan administration, although still hoping to eliminate LSC, decided to replace all eleven LSC board members with nominations of their own.[27] For the new chairman they chose Ronald Zumbrun, president of the ideologically opposite Pacific Legal Foundation,[27] which had previously defended the state of California against several legal aid lawsuits.[27] For fiscal 1982, LSC's budget was reduced by 25 percent to $241 million,[17] with new rules prohibiting most class action suits and lobbying.[17] Zumbrun's nomination was sufficiently controversial that in January 1982, the Reagan administration dropped it, and instead made a recess appointment of William J. Olson to be chair.[28] Olson had headed the Reagan transition team dealing with LSC and had personally recommended its abolition, so LSC advocates were not mollified.[28]

At the same time, the Reagan administration had named six other board members as recess appointments.[28] In February 1982, the Carter-appointed members of the previously existing board filed suit to against the recess appointments, claiming they were unlawful and that they should be enjoined from holding meetings.[29] Rodham hired fellow Rose Law Firm associate Vince Foster to represent her in the case[29] and to seek a restraining order against Reagan.[10] The Reagan nominees may have been prohibited from meeting with the Legal Service Corporation before confirmation.[10]

Rodham also prodded Senate Democrats to vote against Reagan's nominees.[10] The nominees did undergo heavy criticism in Congress, with one labeled a bigot and Olson lambasted for his transition position.[29] In March 1982, yet another new chair was named, Indiana University law professor William F. Harvey,[30] although Olson would remain on the board.[31] Harvey and Rodham had a conference call in which Rodham reiterated her desire for the lawsuit.[29] That action, McCalpin v. Dana,[32] was decided in favor of the defendants by summary judgment in October 1982.[32]

By December 1982, the Senate was willing to confirm six of Reagan's more moderate nominees, but not Harvey, Olson, and another;[33] the Reagan administration instead pulled the names of all of them.[31] This board then closed its last meeting in a public debacle,[33] with Olson lambasting LSC as full of "abuses and rampant illegality" and a "waste of the taxpayers' money through the funding of the left,"[33] while being harangued by a hostile audience.[33] And too, the Reagan appointees to the board were being criticized for collecting substantially higher fees than previous board members.[24][33]

In September 1983 the General Accounting Office found that in early 1981, LSC officials and its local affiliates had used federal funds in assembling opposition to Reagan's efforts to eliminate LSC, and that this use had been in violation of the LSC Act's restrictions against such political activity.[34] Such actions against the LSC Act were not crimes, and the GAO report did not claim any crimes had taken place.[34] The investigation had been initiated by the LSC of 1983 ordering a series of "raids" on their own offices to attempt to discover evidence of LSC of 1981 actions questionable,[18] prompting Time magazine to declare LSC "an organization at war with itself."[18]

More recess appointments were made by Reagan in late 1983, in 1984, and in early 1985, with again none of them being confirmed by the Senate.[32] Indeed, LSC's board would go a total of three and a half years populated by recess appointments.[32] Finally in June 1985 the Senate confirmed the latest batch of Reagan nominations.[32] The Carter board lawsuit, since renamed and appealed as McCalpin v. Durant to the United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, was then decided later in June 1985 as moot.[32]

The George H. W. Bush era

Overt White House hostility towards LSC ended with the George H. W. Bush administration, for calls for level funding rather than decreases.[15] Under board chair George Wittgraff, LSC began to ease relations with private lawyers and with state grantees.[15] In fiscal 1992, LSC saw a funding increase back to $350 million.[15]

The Clinton era

The first two years of the Clinton administration saw more growth for LSC, as former chair McCalpin returned to the board and the previous former chair was now First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton.[15] Funding rose to a high mark in absolute terms of $400 million for fiscal years 1994 and 1995.[15]

Things turned upon advent of the Republican Revolution.[15] In fiscal 1996, once the Republican party had taken over Congress the year prior, LSC had its funding cut again, from $400 million to $278 million.[35] A new set of much more extensive restrictions were added to LSC grantees. The organization's supporters expressed disappointment that the Clinton administration did not make LSC a critical priority in its budget battles with the Republican Congress, especially given Hillary Clinton's former role in it.[35]

As part of a comprehensive "welfare reform" of federal welfare laws beginning in 1996, most significantly the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, 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[35] challenging the way public benefits are administered. Additionally, LSC grantees faced tightened restrictions on representing immigrants, specifically those illegally in the country.[35] However in 2001, the restriction on welfare advocacy was ruled unconstitutional in Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez.

However, non-LSC funded organizations are not subject to these restrictions leading 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.

The George W. Bush era

According to LSC's 2005 report "Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans", all legal aid offices nationwide, LSC-funded or not, are together able to meet only about 20 percent of the estimated legal needs of low-income people in the United States. [36]

The Obama era

In 2009 during the Obama administration, the LSC was on the path to getting a a $50 million increase in its $390 million budget.[37]

However, the LSC came under criticism from Senator Charles Grassley, who said, "There's just a lot of money being wasted," citing several General Accounting Office and Inspector General reports.[37]

By fiscal 2011, the annual budget amount for the LSC was $420 million.[38] In early 2011, House now-majority Republican proposed a $75 million reduction in that current-year amount, while contrastingly Obama's suggestion budget proposed a $30 million increase for the subsequent year.[38]

LSC Board of Directors

LSC is headed by an 11-member Board of Directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.[1] By law, the Board is bipartisan: no more than six members may be of the same political party.[1] The current composition of the board is:

  • Board Chair: John G. Levi
  • Vice Chair: Martha Minow
  • Members: Sharon L. Browne, Jonann C. Chiles, Thomas A. Fuentes, Robert Grey Jr., Charles N. W. Keckler, Victor B. Maddox, Thomas R. Meites, Laurie Mikva, Sarah M. Singleton

The chairs of the LSC board throughout its history have included:


By law LSC's headquarters is located in Washington D.C. In the 1970s and 1980s LSC also had regional offices. Now LSC has one office in Washington that administers all of LSC's work. LSC itself does not provide legal representation to the poor. The LSC grantee in Washington D.C. is Neighborhood Legal Services.

LSC programs


  • Legal Services Alabama, Inc.


  • Alaska Legal Services Corporation

American Samoa

  • Uunai Legal Services Clinic


  • Community Legal Services, Inc.
  • Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
  • DNA-Peoples Legal Services, Inc.



  • California Indian Legal Services, Inc.
  • Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc.
  • Central California Legal Services
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
  • Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County
  • Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc.
  • Legal Services of Northern California, Inc.
  • Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc.
  • California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.
  • Bay Area Legal Aid
  • Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Inc.



  • Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, Inc.


  • Legal Services Corporation of Delaware, Inc.

District of Columbia

  • Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia


  • Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Inc.
  • Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc.
  • Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.
  • Legal Services of North Florida, Inc.
  • Bay Area Legal Services, Inc.
  • Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc.
  • Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, Inc.


  • Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.
  • Georgia Legal Services Program


  • Guam Legal Services Corporation



  • Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc.


  • Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago
  • Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc.
  • Prairie State Legal Services, Inc.


  • Indiana Legal Services, Inc.


  • Iowa Legal Aid


  • Kansas Legal Services, Inc.



  • Capital Area Legal Services Corporation
  • Acadiana Legal Service Corporation
  • Legal Services of North Louisiana, Inc.
  • Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation


  • Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc.


  • Legal Aid Bureau, Inc.


  • Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association
  • New Center for Legal Advocacy, Inc.
  • Merrimack Valley Legal Services, Inc.
  • Massachusetts Justice Project, Inc.


  • Legal Services of South Central Michigan
  • Legal Services of Eastern Michigan
  • Legal Services of Northern Michigan, Inc.
  • Legal Aid of Western Michigan
  • Legal Aid and Defender Association, Inc.
  • Michigan Indian Legal Services, Inc.


  • Micronesian Legal Services, Inc.


  • Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota
  • Central Minnesota Legal Services, Inc.
  • Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota Corporation
  • Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc.
  • Anishinabe Legal Services, Inc.


  • North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, Inc.
  • Mississippi Center for Legal Services


  • Legal Aid of Western Missouri
  • Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Inc.
  • Mid-Missouri Legal Services Corporation
  • Legal Services of Southern Missouri


  • Montana Legal Services Association


  • Legal Aid of Nebraska


  • Nevada Legal Services, Inc.

New Hampshire

  • Legal Advice & Referral Center, Inc.

New Jersey

  • Legal Services of Northwest Jersey
  • South Jersey Legal Services, Inc.
  • Northeast New Jersey Legal Services Corporation
  • Essex-Newark Legal Services Project, Inc.
  • Ocean-Monmouth Legal Services, Inc.
  • Central Jersey Legal Services, Inc.

New Mexico

  • New Mexico Legal Aid

New York

  • Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Inc.
  • Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc.
  • Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee, Inc.
  • Legal Services NYC
  • Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.
  • Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc.
  • Legal Services of the Hudson Valley

North Carolina

  • Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc.

North Dakota

  • Legal Services of North Dakota


  • Community Legal Aid Services, Inc.
  • Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati
  • Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
  • The Legal Aid Society of Columbus
  • Ohio State Legal Services
  • Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc.
  • Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, Inc.


  • Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc.
  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.


  • Legal Aid Services of Oregon


  • Philadelphia Legal Assistance Center
  • Laurel Legal Services, Inc.
  • MidPenn Legal Services, Inc.
  • Neighborhood Legal Services Association
  • North Penn Legal Services, Inc.
  • Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services, Inc.
  • Northwestern Legal Services
  • Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Puerto Rico

  • Puerto Rico Legal Services, Inc.
  • Community Law Office, Inc.

Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island Legal Services, Inc.

South Carolina

  • South Carolina Legal Services, Inc.

South Dakota

  • East River Legal Services
  • Dakota Plains Legal Services, Inc.


  • Legal Aid of East Tennessee
  • Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc.
  • Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands
  • West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc.



  • Utah Legal Services, Inc.


  • Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, Inc.

Virgin Islands

  • Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, Inc.


  • Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc.
  • Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia
  • Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc.
  • Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc.
  • Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc.
  • Potomac Legal Aid Society, Inc.


  • Northwest Justice Project

West Virginia

  • Legal Aid of West Virginia, Inc.


  • Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc.
  • Wisconsin Judicare, Inc.



  1. ^ a b c "Board of Directors Profiles". Legal Services Corporation. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  2. ^ "Office of the President". Legal Services Corporation. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  3. ^ "FY 2007 Appropriation". Legal Services Corporation. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Brock, David (1996). The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. The Free Press. ISBN 0-684-83451-0.  pp. 96–97.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Corporation for the Poor". Time. 1975-07-28.,9171,913362,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-03. 
  6. ^ a b "Bipartisan Group in Congress Urges a Legal Services Corporation for the Poor" (fee required). The New York Times. 1971-03-18. 
  7. ^ a b "LSC Act and Other Statutes". Legal Services Corporation. 1974-07-25. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  8. ^ a b "Jimmy Carter: Nominations Submitted to the Senate, Week Ending Friday, December 16th, 1977". American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2007-09-03. 
  9. ^ Hillary Rodham Clinton, Living History, Simon & Schuster, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-2224-5, pp. 77–78.
  10. ^ a b c d e Carl Bernstein, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Knopf, ISBN 0375407669. pp. 132–133.
  11. ^ "Jimmy Carter: Nominations Submitted to the Senate, Week Ending Friday, January 27th, 1978". American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  12. ^ Brock, Seduction of Hillary Rodham, p. 98.
  13. ^ Brock, Seduction of Hillary Rodham, p. 99–100.
  14. ^ a b c Brock, Seduction of Hillary Rodham, pp. 104–105.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h "Long Climb to Justice". Equal Justice Magazine (Legal Services Corporation). Fall 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-04-05. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  16. ^ "Hybrid Help". Time. 1980-04-21.,9171,924030,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Bennett H. Beach (1981-11-23). "One More Narrow Escape". Time.,9171,922707,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  18. ^ a b c d e Jackson, David S.; Serrill, Michael S. (1983-10-03). "An Organization at War with Itself". Time.,9171,926255,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  19. ^ "Jimmy Carter: Nominations Submitted to the Senate, Week Ending June 27th, 1980". American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  20. ^ "House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Departments of State, Justice, Commerce, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations". U.S. House of Representatives. 1980.  Rodham is still chair after having given birth "a few weeks ago"; Chelsea Clinton was born on February 27, 1980.
  21. ^ "Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties, and the Administration of Justice, of the Committee of the Judiciary, House of Representatives". Background release, Legal Services Corporation, September 1980. U.S. House of Representatives. September 21, 27, 1979.  pp. 388–403, exact reference p. 398 shows McCalpin as chair in September 1980.
  22. ^ Neil A. Lewis (1990-12-31). "Still No End to Turmoil at Legal Services". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  23. ^ "FMCCALPIN". Lewis Rice Attys.. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  24. ^ a b Mary Thornton (1982-12-31). "July Memo Warned Legal Services Officials on Fees" (Fee required). The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  25. ^ a b Stuart Taylor Jr. (1981-05-14). "House Panel Rebuffs Reagan and Backs Keeping Legal Aid For Poor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  26. ^ a b c Stuart Taylor Jr. (1981-06-18). "House Action Near in Fight Over Legal Aid". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  27. ^ a b c Stuart Taylor Jr. (1981-11-08). "Coast Lawyer Reported As Legal Aid Choice". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  28. ^ a b c Irvin Molotsky (1982-01-01). "Reagan Chooses Lawyer as Chief of Legal Aid Agency for the Poor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  29. ^ a b c d Brock, Seduction of Hillary Rodham, pp. 110–111.
  30. ^ "Legal Services Chief Picked". The New York Times (United Press International). 1982-03-06. Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  31. ^ a b Stuart Taylor Jr. (1982-12-09). "Reagan Withdraws 9 Nominees to Legal Unit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  32. ^ a b c d e f "McCALPIN v. DURANT". United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. 1985-06-25. Retrieved 2008-02-19. [dead link]
  33. ^ a b c d e Stuart Taylor Jr. (1982-12-19). "Politics and Perks Revive Reagan Fight on Legal Aid". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  34. ^ a b Stuart Taylor Jr. (1983-09-21). "Ex-Legal Aid Officials Accused of Fund Abuse". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  35. ^ a b c d William Booth (1996-06-01). "Attacked as Left-Leaning, Legal Services Suffers Deep Cuts" (fee required). The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  36. ^ Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans, pages 4 and 9. Legal Services Corporation, September 2005.
  37. ^ a b Sharyl Attkisson (July 28, 2009). "Legal Services Investigated for Waste". CBS News. 
  38. ^ a b

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