Civil Legal Assistance for Low-Income Persons: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Landmark article that summarized status of civil legal aid after LSC restrictions imposed, and recommended further change, including stronger base of public support at the local level and an integrated, comprehensive statewide system.

Item details

Focus organization: Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Publisher: Fordham Urban Law Journal
Date (approx.): Jan 1, 2002
Actual title: Civil Legal Assistance for Low-Income Persons: Looking Back and Looking Forward
Creator: Houseman, Alan W.
Format: Journal article
State: National
Law type: Civil
Topics: Civil legal aid: Funding, LSC: General, and LSC: Restrictions
Content availability: Info only
External link:
Last modified: 2023-01-02 04:53


Recommended Citation
Alan W. Houseman, Civil Legal Assistance for Low-Income Persons: Looking Back and Looking Forward, 29 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1213 (2002).
Available at:

This Article discusses the importance of legal aid and the services it provides to low-income persons. The Article also addresses the need for further change. It advocates for the development of a stronger base of public support at the local level. It also calls for an integrated, comprehensive statewide system to ensure that access is available to all those who need relief.

Over the last thirty-five years, civil legal assistance in the United States has developed from a haphazard program with limited private funding into a significant $800 million institution. The legal aid program has a long history of effective representation of low-income persons and has achieved a number of significant results in the courts, administrative agencies, and legislative bodies. The federal program has expanded access throughout the country and provided significant relief to millions of needy persons. Without the civil legal assistance program, there would be virtually no access to justice for low-income persons residing in the country.

These accomplishments do not suggest that the civil legal assis-tance system should remain static. On the contrary, considerablechange is needed. The civil legal assistance community has begun transforming its structure into a more effective system. Even if Congress had not imposed restrictions and reduced funding in 1996, the legal services community would have needed to create astatewide system of civil legal assistance in each state. This restructuring was necessary to obtain new funding, increase access for low-income people, and improve the effectiveness of legal assistance providers. The reorganization has helped build a broader base of public support for civil legal assistance. The civil legal as-sistance community needed a new system to ensure that low-income persons were represented in all relevant forums where decisions affecting their lives are made. Advocacy activities had to be effectively coordinated within and among states, and all advocates participating in the system needed to have access to information, training, and assistance to provide effective legal advice.

The directions for the future are clear. The civil legal assistance community must develop a stronger base of public support within the general public and among key local leaders.. Moreover, it must move forward to create integrated, comprehensive statewide systems. States that have not begun serious efforts to create new systems must do so.

The overarching goal has been and will continue to be equal jus-tice for all. While the United States has far to go to reach thatgoal, it is moving down the path that will someday achieve a civiljustice system that guarantees equal justice for all.