Georgetown Law Journal, Georgetown Law, Georgetown University
April 1, 1995
There is, however, a vision of legal services .... that accepts the political context in which legal services functions and attempts to improve the legal services delivery system through programmatic, incremental, and sustained change.
This is a commentary on: Marc Feldman, Political Lessons: Legal Services for the Poor, 83 GEO. L.J. 1529 (1995).
Legal services for the poor could greatly benefit from critique and critical examination. Regrettably, in Political Lessons’ Marc Feldman presents a critique of the federal legal services program that is not based on empirical evaluation. Instead, he presents a description of what he claims to be reality that is foreign to most legal services programs operating today in the United States.
This commentary discusses the early history of legal services, provides a much different analysis of the problems within the system, and suggests a vision that might provide a basis for a reinvigorated legal services program. At the time of this writing the relevance of this commentary is unclear, because there is substantial question about the continued existence of the federal program and what it will be funded to do.
There is, however, a vision of legal services that is consistent with the more experimental ideas of Cahn, responds to the critique of work done by other scholars, and would likely achieve more benefits and greater change for low-income Americans than the vision proposed by Feldman. It is a vision that accepts the political context in which legal services functions and attempts to improve the legal services delivery system through programmatic, incremental, and sustained change.
Under this vision, the legal services program would focus on helping economically deprived communities solve the problems they face. It would do so by supporting and enhancing poor citizens’ ability to control their own lives and escape poverty. Legal services would focus its work on helping the economically deprived to effectively marshal and increase the resources, services, and opportunities available to benefit them. I use the term “economically disadvantaged” because it conveys a constituency broader than just the very poor, a constituency that includes those unable to afford adequate legal counsel and those not defined by arbitrary or artificial percentages of the poverty line.
This vision starts with the traditional notion that lawyers help people and organizations solve problems and resolve disputes. It recognizes that the problems faced by the poor are not limited to those brought into formal dispute settlement systems; the poor, like the more affluent, also face an array of problems requiring a whole range of lawyering tools. Some problems arise in defense of family, home, possessions, food, or income and require effective, sustained, and focused litigation or defensive administrative or policy advocacy. Other problems-those involving disputes with others-may be most effectively resolved through informal dispute resolution mechanisms. Still other problems involve community revitalization and economic opportunity and may require transactional legal assistance, such as economic development or the assistance of tenants in managing and controlling their own housing. Some problems may require changes in policies or laws at the local, state, or national level.
PUBLICATION DETAILSFormat: Commentary
Publication Type: Essay
Geographic coverage, US: NATIONAL
Topics: Legal Aid Movement | History of Legal Aid | Featured
How Provided: Delivery Systems
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Cannot find exact date, though it’s during 1995. PDF is from HeinOnline is copyrighted.