Jacqui Bowman oral history, 2019

Director of Greater Boston Legal Services who also worked for West Tennessee Legal Services. Member of SCLAID. Chair of MIE.

Oral history details

Storyteller: Jacqui Bowman
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: May 9, 2019
Where relates to: Massachusetts and Tennessee
Topics: American Bar Association (ABA), Disability: Child, Domestic violence, Juvenile defendants, MIE, Nonprofit management, SCLAID, and Special needs education
Law type: Civil
Collection: CNEJL
Georgetown Law Library link (possible video):
Length: 0:49:31

Full text of transcript

Download PDF: Transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with Jacqui Bowman
Conducted by Alan Houseman
May 9, 2019

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history of Jacqui Bowman, who was the executive director of Greater Boston Legal Services. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library and the Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library. Jacqui, let’s begin with an overview of your background, where you grew up, where you went to college and law school and various jobs you’ve had. Then we’ll come back and talk in more depth about those jobs.

Jacqui Bowman:
Okay. My name is Jacqui Bowman and I grew up on the southside of Chicago in the neighborhood of Englewood. Started at public schools, finished at Catholic schools. I went to University of Chicago for my undergraduate years. Majored in history. While I was at Chicago, people from Antioch School of Law came to recruit and I applied to Antioch School of Law. I went to Antioch School of Law in Washington DC, which is where I received my JD degree. What else?

Alan Houseman:
After you got your JD, what jobs did you have? Then we’ll come back and talk in depth about them. Just run through them.

Jacqui Bowman:
Oh, okay. When I went to law school, it was with the intent of doing criminal law. When I graduated from law school I was going to stay in DC and do criminal law. But various different things happened. I ended up looking for a job late in the hiring cycle. At that time, the only places that were hiring were legal services programs. So I applied for a job at Greater Boston Legal Services and I applied for a job at a couple of places in Tennessee. Tennessee paid more than GBLS and the cost of living was less in Tennessee. I moved to Tennessee. Did not have any relatives in Tennessee. I had lived for one year in the South because my mother’s from North Carolina. I lived in North Carolina for my senior year in high school. Really I felt like a Yankee in the Southland. I stayed there for five years, left, and went to Boston where I worked at Greater Boston Legal Services for a number of years. I left GBLS in order to work for the statewide backup center. I did that for almost seven years, left there, and went back to GBLS, which is where I am now.

Alan Houseman:
Right. What factors led you to go to into civil legal aid? You were thinking about criminal law, so what led you to go there?

Jacqui Bowman:
One of the nice things about going to Antioch School of Law is that you have the opportunity to do clinical work while you’re a law student. For me that was very important. While I was in law school, I got to do a number of different clinics around juvenile justice work, which is what I wanted to do. I realized if you were a good attorney and you got your client off — or found not guilty, or not involved, I think was the lingo — there was little that you could do to support them. Once they were found not involved, there was no longer a relationship with the social services industry or the criminal justice industry. I realized that for many of the kids that I represented, we were able to answer into consent decrees. Where if they didn’t commit any other juvenile delinquent act for six months, the original charges would be dropped. I was in one clinic for a whole year. A number of the people I represented at the beginning of that time were showing up again in the last six months of my being at that clinic.

Jacqui Bowman:
That’s when I realized that, if you’re going to really truly support vulnerable children and their families, you have to start further back before they get involved in the criminal justice system. I started looking at education, working with kids in the education system to make sure that they had appropriate education. A number of the kids that I ended up representing in the juvenile justice system were kids who were suspended from school, expelled from school, or just dropped out of school themselves. So looking back at their education, are they getting the appropriate education? Are they getting the things that they need to feel comfortable in the school system? I ended up doing a lot of education law and realizing that I could make a difference that way. One of the legal services programs that I applied to was West Tennessee Legal Services. The executive director at that time said I could continue to do both juvenile justice and education law. That’s how I ended up going to that particular program in addition to the fact that they paid more than GBLS. But that’s how I ended up there.

Alan Houseman:
You were there for several years. What did you do in education law and juvenile justice law? How would you describe your accomplishments, your achievements, your work there?

Jacqui Bowman:
Jackson, Tennessee was a small metropolitan area for West Tennessee and the hub of a pretty rural area of Tennessee. A number of the students were being expelled from school, being literally told not to come back, because they weren’t progressing as students. I think one of the things that I was able to accomplish was an understanding among the middle and high school guidance counselors that kids had rights. There is a process that you go through and that people are watching. If you push kids out of school, they do have the right to come back and somebody is going to advocate for them.

Jacqui Bowman:
After maybe a year or two, the school started paying attention to what the rights were. It wasn’t me by myself, it was with other advocates in the program. We worked with the school systems in order to make sure that they did the 10-day hearings before they suspended or expelled kids for a long period of time. We also did a lot of parental education and letting parents know that they had rights. But this was fairly early on in the special education arena. So we had to fight really hard to make sure that kids who needed more were getting more and not just being isolated into self-contained classrooms. We did a lot of education of the educators. At the same time I was doing a significant number of juvenile justice cases, and doing the same thing with the court system. So kids who were committing offenses that were only offenses because of their status as juveniles should not be immediately placed in detention, which is what was happening.

Jacqui Bowman:
So we had to work with the attorney general of the area to make sure that kids weren’t ending up in juvenile halls when they had not really committed a crime. Maybe they talk back to adults or maybe they ran away from home and they were being placed in juvenile detention facilities with people who had been found guilty of committing real crimes. We were just trying to make sure that the kids didn’t end up in those kinds of situations. I also worked with other people across Tennessee in order to make sure the kids didn’t end up in adult prisons which was a big thing in Tennessee at that time as well. The smaller the area, the fewer locked facilities they had. So they ended up placing kids in the same facilities as adult criminals.

Alan Houseman:
West Tennessee covers what part of Tennessee?

Jacqui Bowman:
West Tennessee covered the area north of Memphis all the way up to the Kentucky-Tennessee state line and west I-40, is the highway that runs through. So we covered up to maybe… I’m trying to think of… There were two rivers — Tennessee River on one side and the Mississippi River on the other side. So we covered the area in between, but not the Metro Memphis area. When I started at West Tennessee Legal Services, it only covered the three counties surrounding Jackson. Madison County, Haywood County and Henderson County. This was during the time of expansion of the Legal Services Corporation. After the first year, there was a competition for the northwestern counties of Tennessee. We were in competition with Memphis Area Legal Services and we ended up winning a competition and adding one the five northwestern counties to create a program that was twice the size that it was when I started.

Jacqui Bowman:
The other thing is that, when I started, Jackson, Tennessee had about three women attorneys. The introduction of the legal services program tripled the number of women attorneys. I was the only black female attorney. There were two black male attorneys who were in practice with each other. So it was a very different kind of world to practice in.

Jacqui Bowman:
The other thing is that people were suspicious of the legal services program coming in. The bar in Jackson was very, very comfortable with each other. They were doing a number of things that would be really startling to folks in a larger city practicing. For example, one of my very first cases ended up going to the state Supreme Court. It was a simple case in Tennessee. If a parent abandoned a child for six months or more, somebody else could come in and apply for termination of parental rights. So in this particular situation, a young woman’s husband had taken her child or their child and secreted the child away and she did not know where the child was. After about six months or so, she filed for divorce. She went to one of the local attorneys to represent her and her divorce action. While she was in his office signing her divorce papers, he picks up the phone and calls another attorney in the building, and said, “She’s here now you can come on down.” They came down and served her with the papers to terminate her parental rights. Then she said, “Well, I need an attorney for this. Can you represent me?” He says, “No, I can’t. But the guy downstairs can represent you.” All three of these attorneys were working together in order to deprive her of her rights. She went to the hearing with the attorney on the lower level and ended up losing the case. In between the time that she got the attorney downstairs to represent her and the loss of her case, West Tennessee Legal Services was created.

Jacqui Bowman:
She asked if she could appeal her case and the guy said, “No. But there’s a legal aid program down the street. You can go there.” She happened to get me as the person to interview her and do the intake. Once I heard the story I was totally appalled. I wasn’t quite sure what we could do about it. But I ended up doing research and ended up representing her. They did not have a recorded proceeding that was recorded. We ended up having to do a statement as the evidence. The attorney who represented her in the case below signed off on the statement in the evidence. We submitted our papers. The person who had represented her in the divorce and was now representing the other side in determination of parental rights objected, and said he couldn’t believe that the attorney below had signed the papers.

Jacqui Bowman:
We ended up having to hire a handwriting expert to prove that this guy had signed the papers. Fortunately for me, when he signed the papers, I was not by myself. I had other people with me who witnessed his signature. Once all of those papers were found, the Supreme Court took the case. We also had an investigation by the Board of Bar Overseers because clearly at least one of the attorneys involved in the case was perpetrating a fraud upon the court. We ended up winning that case. She was able to get her child back. Unfortunately, it took three years and the child was about four years old. It was a tough return of the child. But in the process of handling that particular case, we also raised the bar in terms of our colleagues and practicing law that certain kinds of behaviors will not be accepted. You can’t represent one person in one action and then turn around and represent an opposing party against your own client in another action. So that ended up in one attorney being forced to retire, one attorney being disbarred, and one attorney receiving a public reprimand. That was my very first case.

Alan Houseman:
Well, that was a fascinating case to say the least. After West Tennessee Legal Services about 1984 I think, you returned or you went to Boston, to Greater Boston Legal Services. What did you do there? What kind of advocacy activities were you involved with? How would you describe that first era there at GBLS?

Jacqui Bowman:
I left West Tennessee Legal Services, because I got married and neither one of us wanted to be Yankees in the Southland anymore. So we moved to Boston, which is where my husband went to law school. Most of my cases in Tennessee were family law cases. Those were the people who came in. The other thing is that by representing a lot of the kids, either in the juvenile justice world or in education matters, I realized that a number of the women were single moms who had been victims of domestic violence. In Tennessee, the only restraining orders that you could get were if you were married. There were a lot of common law-type situations where the people weren’t actually together long enough to be able to be considered a common law marriage. We ended up representing them to do peace bonds. But the batterer only had to pay $25, and they were back out on the street.

Jacqui Bowman:
One of the things that we worked on in West Tennessee was to develop a shelter system. Getting hotels to donate rooms for people to be able to have safety. Working with the area rape crisis center in order to create a shelter. The shelter wasn’t created until after I left, but we had gotten the wheels turning before I left. So when I went to Boston, I was looking at either benefits work or family law work. The majority of my cases were family law. I ended up working at GBLS as a senior attorney doing family law work. My focus when I went was on child welfare as well as domestic violence.

Jacqui Bowman:
In 1985, I was part of a class action lawsuit against the Department of Social Services in order to get DSS at that time to make sure that kids were returned home from foster care as soon as appropriate. Or to leave them in their homes and not take them into foster care if services could be provided in order to help support the family. We were able to get temporary orders. We worked with the Department of Social Services and the Social Work Union, SCIU. We worked with them in order to reduce the number of cases that they were responsible for and to make some changes in how DSS assigned the cases to families. Unfortunately in Illinois, they had a similar case going on, Artist M. vs. Suter. The Supreme Court decided that there was no private right to reasonable accommodation, which was the basis of our lawsuit. Our case was mooted out.

Jacqui Bowman:
However, we continued to work with the Department of Social Services in order to make certain that children who were involved in the child welfare system received the services that they needed to be able to be returned home safely. Also, to make sure that children were not removed from their homes so quickly. That was a lot of the work that I did the first couple of years that I was at GBLS. Then I got heavily involved in doing work around child witness to domestic violence and working with children who had witnessed domestic violence. My office before I got there was responsible for drafting the original restraining order statute in Massachusetts. One of the things that I focused on was updating that statute in order to allow for a restraining order to be available to people who were in a dating relationship and also to protect the children.

Jacqui Bowman:
Ultimately, I ended up doing an amicus brief in a case involving a child who was a witness to domestic violence. The court wanted to give custody to the father who was the batterer. The goal of that particular case was to get the lower court, the probate family court, to look at what the impact of witnessing domestic violence would be on a child, how that would affect that child if the child were placed in the custody of the batterer. We won that case. But one of the things that was concerning was that we didn’t think the case went far enough. So we started working on some legislative response to that. It took us a number of years. I think it took us four years to actually get a bill passed that actually required courts to look at the impact of domestic violence on a child, to factor in that if a batterer committed domestic violence in front of the child, that would be a negative factor in assigning custody.

Jacqui Bowman:
In the midst of all of those activities, I was recruited to the state backup center, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, to do family law. Alan Rogers was the executive director at that time. He was doing most of the family law work that was there in addition to a thousand other things that he had been doing. I was the first attorney that was dedicated to family and juvenile law while I was at Mass Law Reform. One of the first things that I did was to create a program where the legislature would give legal aid money in order to represent victims of domestic violence. So that was one of the state appropriated programs. We started off as a pilot project and now it’s a statewide project and it’s been going on now for 20 years. I continued to work on amicus briefs and to work with the local legal aid programs around both children’s activities as well as family law. I worked with the Mass Advocates for Children in order to make certain that kids who were in domestic violence situations were given the support that they needed at school. That led to the creation of a program that’s still operating today, which is a trauma and learning program. The people who are running that program are running it now in partnership with the Harvard Law School. It’s providing for trauma-sensitive learning. It’s now a national program. In fact the people who are running it a year ago went over to China in order to talk about the work that they had done.

Jacqui Bowman:
I was recruited back to Greater Boston Legal Services. One of the reasons that I went back was because I felt that it was really, really difficult and challenging to continue to do law reform work without having direct contact with clients. For me, that was really important. I know that some people get really involved in the policy work. I didn’t feel like I could do that without having real life people in front of me saying, “This is what my problem is.” When I was doing that work at law reform, it was somewhat through the people working in the field. They would present their particular issue to me and then I’m dealing with them and not directly with the clients. I just found that to be really challenging. One of my criticisms of one of the class action lawsuits that I was involved in is that, if the people who had directed that particular lawsuit before I got involved had actually handled some of those cases, they probably would not have had such an omnibus lawsuit. They would have focused on a particular area instead of trying to do everything in the lawsuit. I felt that it’s important that if you are going to do some impactful, systemic change, you have got to be in direct contact with the people who are experiencing whatever the issue is. In my experience, at Greater Boston Legal Services that was the philosophy of the program. That was what I wanted to do.

Alan Houseman:
Describe the program. Greater Boston Legal Services in the legal aid world is one of the old premier programs.

Jacqui Bowman:
GBLS was created in 1900 in order to provide services to people who were being victimized. Whether they were women who were victims of domestic violence, or being cheated because their husbands left them. Or whether they were immigrants new to the community and who didn’t understand the law. GBLS believed strongly in access to justice but at the same time, they also believed in changing systems in order to make it easier for people who are poor or people who were immigrants to be able to navigate. One of the early directors of Greater Boston Legal Services was the person who was also responsible for the billable hour, Reginald Heber Smith. He’s seen as the father of poverty law practice. He was one of the early directors of what was then the Boston Legal Aid Society. After the old OEO program funded civil legal aid, they created the Boston Legal Aid Project. In 1976 the Boston Legal Aid Project and the Boston Legal Aid Society merged and formed Greater Boston Legal Services.

Jacqui Bowman:
At that point in time, I think the two things came together. The access to justice angle as well as the antipoverty angle came together. GBLS at that time had a number of neighborhood offices and saw itself as a group of community lawyers responding to the needs in the community. That legacy continues today. In 1996, GBLS gave up the federal funds because of our origins. We began as a program that was providing services to people who are immigrants. We wanted people to be able to have the wide range of legal tools that were available to people who can afford a lawyer and not be limited. When the restrictions were placed on the federal dollars in 1996, we gave up the federal dollars. We did not want to have our ability to provide a wide range of advocacy tools limited by some outside force. At the same time, we felt very strongly that our legacy was to provide services to people regardless of their status in this country. We gave up the federal dollars. Since that time, we have developed a significant fundraising project in order to be able to continue the work that we were doing. We continue to do that work. We see ourselves as providing both access to justice as well as taking the steps necessary to eradicate poverty.

Alan Houseman:
How big are you today? How many offices and staff, you know.

Jacqui Bowman:
The other thing that happened in 1996-97 was, because we were giving up a couple of million dollars, we closed most of our neighborhood offices that were remaining at that time. I would say between 1976 and 1996, GBLS was slowly decreasing the number of neighborhood offices that it had. We also felt that it was important to have a critical mass in each of the offices. It was challenging to run a full service office with two attorneys and maybe a paralegal and the secretary. We began to centralize things. I’m talking about this as if I was there. I wasn’t there then, but basically that’s what was going on. In 1982, GBLS decided that the best way to respond to the issues and challenges for clients was to specialize in substantive practice areas that were prevalent among the cases that we were seeing. So we created specialty units and we encouraged people to develop expertise in those specialty units.

Jacqui Bowman:
GBLS pretty much operates on that same format today. When I started at GBLS towards the end of 1984, GBLS had close to a hundred attorneys. In 1996, the number was reduced significantly because of the loss of funding. We transferred people. We transferred our federal funds to the volunteer lawyers project. We transferred some of our staff to the volunteer lawyers project. So at that time, GBLS probably had about 60 attorneys. Then during the economic downturn in 2003 and again in 2008-2009, we continued to reduce staffing. In 2011, we had 50 attorneys. Today we are climbing back up and we have 61 attorneys. We had 20 paralegals. We now have 16 paralegals.

Jacqui Bowman:
We are slowly moving up in terms of our numbers of staff. But the challenge now of course is how do you pay all those people? That’s what we’re dealing with now. But we continue to pride ourselves on our innovation and creativity in the work that we do. We are focused now on gentrification, trying to stem the tide of displacement in the Boston area, in addition to continuing to be innovative in the other substantive areas that we practice. We just recently won a legislative victory in lifting the cap on, after-born children in the TANF world.

Alan Houseman:
I want to turn to some of your other bar and MIE and ABA activities now and then I’m going to come back to the more philosophic questions.

Jacqui Bowman:
Okay. My first involvement with the ABA actually started when I was in law school. I was part of the Student Bar Association and ended up fulfilling somebody’s term as the regional governor for the Mid-Atlantic region in the ABA. I continued my involvement in the ABA at various different levels throughout. In terms of active attorney involvement in the ABA, I was first a member of the ABA commission on domestic violence. That happened at a time when I was actively doing work on behalf of victims of domestic violence. Then not long after, I ended my time doing that.

Jacqui Bowman:
Maybe three years later, I was approached by someone to fulfill… I’m always filling somebody else’s spots. Someone left the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID) and there was a year left on their term. Someone suggested that I fill that position. So I applied and I was selected to fill that position. Then at the end of that year, I had my own term as a member of SCLAID. That was the beginning, I think of ABA’s financial issues. It was a little challenging because a lot of the things that we used to do in SCLAID we were not really able to continue to do. But one of the good things about that involvement was the relationship with the Legal Services Corporation in a positive way because it happened to coincide with Jim Sandman coming on, and having to fight for funding for civil legal aid.

Jacqui Bowman:
The ABA and SCLAID were in a position to have their voices heard and it was great to be part of that group. Because I was actively involved in the legal aid program and particularly one that was not funded by the Legal Services Corporation, it put me in a position to be able to speak on behalf of the legal aid programs without fear of any repercussions from the Legal Services Corporation. It’s important for legal aid lawyers to be involved in ABA. I think that SCLAID and a couple of the other standing committees are very supportive of legal services. If we want the ABA to continue to be supportive of legal services, then I think we have to be there to have our voices heard. It’s challenging to be a part of the ABA. There are a lot of bureaucratic steps that you have to go through in order to convince the governing body to go along with various different initiatives. But there are a lot of people who are committed and dedicated to the vulnerable populations that we serve. I think that the ABA continues to have a voice in places where individual legal services programs don’t have a voice.

Alan Houseman:
You’ve also been active in Management Information Exchange (MIE)? I have of course, done interview with other people that who have been active in it. But explain briefly here and then talk about that a little bit.

Jacqui Bowman:
Well, the Management Information Exchange or MIE actually started when the legal aid programs became unionized. It was an opportunity for management to exchange information with one another in a safe environment. By the time that I got involved with MIE, they were moving away from their origin as a management information exchange to more of a group of people who were committed to excellence in management. My first involvement with MIE was as a trainer for their supervising legal work program. After I did that particular training, I had some critical comments about how we can improve things and I was asked to be part of the training committee. Then ultimately joined the board of MIE and served as chair of MIE. My interest areas coincide with the MIE. I think that for legal aid programs, we grew up with people who were very, very strong legal leaders. Most of the people were not people who had management degrees or business degrees or any of that. It was incumbent upon us as a community to improve our ability to run our organizations and to run them appropriately.

Jacqui Bowman:
I also think that my generation was — probably the tail end of that generation — but probably the first generation that saw legal aid as a long-term career. I remember being at basic learning skills training in Tennessee and sitting in some picnic grove in the woods when Gordon Bonnyman went traipsing through and somebody whispered, “Oh, that’s Gordon Bonnyman. He’s been in legal aid for more than 10 years.” That was a phenomenon to have somebody who had been in legal aid for a significant period of time. Today, 10 years, you’re still a baby lawyer.

Jacqui Bowman:
So I think that because we had people who had been in legal aid for such a long time, it was very important to make sure that we had the skills and the understanding of finances and other responsibilities of administrating a nonprofit, that we were doing it in a good way. I remember when I started in legal aid, the executive director of West Tennessee Legal Services had been out of law school maybe six or seven years. He was considered old for that because a number of people had been out three to five years before they became executive directors. You had people who went to law school, they were smart, intelligent people but a little short on caring about management and caring about the structure of a program.

Jacqui Bowman:
I got in invested in caring about that. When I was a managing attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services and floundered a little bit in terms of, how do you move people to do things in the right way? Started looking into professional development activities and structures. How should we structure the work to make it easier when people come on board? What do they need to know in order to do the right thing? How can they grow in that arena? So MIE was doing all of those things and cared about all of those things. In fact, one of the times when we had our board meeting, we were talking about do we want to change the name of MIE from Management Information Exchange to something that was more descriptive of the work that MIE was doing? We decided not to change the name, but to spell it out as management innovation and excellence. So that’s our tagline now. We focus on managing for excellence. I think it’s really important for us in legal aid to run a well-organized business of law, to promote people who are coming into our organization, and if people want to make it a career, to give them the tools that they need to do it well. I see MIE is doing that, which is why I continue to be involved with MIE.

Alan Houseman:
And you’ve been involved with some Massachusetts Bar Association bar groups?

Jacqui Bowman:
When I started at West Tennessee Legal Services, I think I alluded to it earlier, the local bar was not very happy with us when we started. I think it’s because there was a lot of fear that we were going to undercut their businesses, take cases away from them. We collectively, new lawyers and my executive director, believed that if we were involved in the local bar associations, that they would come to know us as people and they would respect us and that they would support the work that we did. The woman who was the chair of the West Tennessee Legal Services board was somewhat of a renegade herself but she was deeply entrenched in the bar associations and supported that. Our board leader supported us getting involved. It’s something that I got ingrained in me at that time.

Jacqui Bowman:
So when I moved to Boston, one of the things that I wanted to do is to get involved in the local bar association. My executive director at that time was Peter Anderson, he was heavily involved in the bar association. Then when Bob Sable became the executive director, he was involved in the bar association. We can’t create change on our own all the time. We need to have the support at the private bar. One way to do that is to get heavily involved in the different bar associations. But the Boston Legal Aid Society was started in 1900 by 21 attorneys, some of whom were part of the Boston Bar Association’s Bar Council. So from 1900 up to and including present time, the Boston Bar Association has been a strong supporter of Greater Boston Legal Services. We give back and we support the bar activities. We work with the bar in all of our substantive practice areas. From time to time, some of us are leading various different practice sections of the bar association. I think it’s also important to remind the bar associations that we are around and we are in fact real lawyers doing real law.

Jacqui Bowman:
I’ve been involved in the Boston Bar Association. I sat on their council and I continue to be involved in their delivery of legal services section. The Massachusetts Bar Association, I’ve sat in the House of Delegates. I also chaired the access to justice section of the Massachusetts Bar Association and I continue to be involved in that section today. I also was involved in the Civil Rights Division as well. I encourage my staff to be involved again for the very same reasons that we were encouraged to be involved when I was a brand new lawyer. I think it’s important. It’s not us versus them and it shouldn’t be.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Said very well by the way. What is your vision or hope for the future of some legal aid? We can talk about a lot of sub points under that, but I care more about your overall vision and hope. However you want to frame this.

Jacqui Bowman:
I hope that civil legal aid remains relevant in the future. We put a lot of emphasis these days on pro bono. We’ve got a lot of clinics across the country providing limited assistance representation. But that can only go so far in eradicating poverty. My hope for legal aid is that we continue to stay on mission, to remove the barriers that keep people in poverty. It’s one thing to provide access to justice, giving people information about whatever legal issue they might encounter. It’s completely different to begin to dismantle the systems that keep people in poverty. I hope that legal aid continues to see itself as having that dual mission of access to justice, opening the courthouse doors for people who would otherwise be standing on the wrong side of the door, but at the same time fighting to get rid of these barriers.

Jacqui Bowman:
If we go too far in either direction, then I think that we end up losing sight of what our real goal and purposes are. Reginald Heber Smith made a lot of comments about the fact that people shouldn’t be denied justice simply because they can’t afford a lawyer. By giving people legal information, advice, running clinics, limited assistance representation, we run in danger of creating the dual system of justice. If you can afford a lawyer or you’re lucky enough to get a lawyer, you can go to court, you can have someone advocate in front of a decision maker for you. If you don’t, then you end up with pieces of information making it more challenging for people to be able to get meaningful justice. So my hope would be that legal aid continues to be relevant in that we continue to provide an entree to the courthouse doors and justice, but at the same time continue to remove those barriers that keep people poor.

Alan Houseman:
GBLS certainly has been an effective leader in both of those. But my long history with many people there clearly indicates this focus on antipoverty work continues and is an important part of that legacy.

Alan Houseman:
Is there anything else you’d like to add to this oral history that we’ve left out or forgotten about or we should conclude?

Jacqui Bowman:
No. I think we covered a lot of ground. We have a lot of institutional knowledge in legal aid and particularly in the last 50 years since the war on poverty. One of my fears is that, because of the more recent focus on access to justice, we might lose that institutional knowledge about removing systemic barriers. I also fear that the new generation of attorneys might see coming into legal aid as an opportunity to get their feet on the ground in terms of legal practice but may not see it as a viable career. I would like for us to continue to do the things that we have been doing in order to convince people that it is in fact a viable career and that we are making a difference. I just want us to have a little bit more focus on that. It’s challenging because I worry that we cannot afford to pay people what they need to earn in order to be able to live with middle class lifestyle. When you look at the urban areas, the cost of housing, how it affects our clients, it also affects our staff. Those are my concerns.

Alan Houseman:
Well, thank you. This has been terrific.


END