Board member of NYC Legal Aid Society. Trustee of the Community Law offices in East Harlem. Board chair of Legal Services of NJ.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Feb 12, 1994|
|Where relates to:||New Jersey and New York|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Interview keyword summary
Yale clinical legal services program; Newhallville Legal Services, Ford Foundation Gray Area program, memories of Bill Clinton as a Rhodes scholar; Community Law offices in East Harlem; Essex-Newark Legal Services Project; Legal Services Foundation of Essex County; Legal Services of New Jersey, litigation against the state of New Jersey to measure and articulate standard of need for children on AFDC; Reagan administration, Clinton administration, Legal Services Corporation, monitoring conducted by the LSC in the 1980s when the LSC leadership was clearly hostile toward the field and operational use of funds; minimum access funding, Project Advisory Group; ABA; NLADA; request for LSC budget increase from $448M to $848M; short-term and long-term goals as LSC Board Chairman: a) find a President for LSC; b) get congressional reauthorization for LSC; c) get increased funding for LSC; e) get regulatory reform to remove restrictions on LSC; need to reduce politicization of the LSC.
National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with Douglas Eakeley
By Victor Geminiani
August 6, 2002
Victor Geminiani: This is the oral history of Douglas Eakeley. Mr. Eakeley was appointed in November of 1993 by the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, to the Board of Directors of Legal Services Corporation. In December, he was elected Chair of that board by his fellow board members. This interview is being conducted in his home in Short Hills, New Jersey. Today is the 12th day of February, 1994. The interviewer is Victor Geminiani. Good afternoon.
Douglas Eakeley: Good afternoon.
Victor Geminiani: Thank you very much for making this time available in your home on this blustery and snowy February day. Could you tell us a little bit about your background prior to becoming involved with Legal Services?
Douglas Eakeley: That means prior to law school. I was born in Morristown, grew up in Westfield, New Jersey; went through the public school system there; went to Yale College on a scholarship, majored in economics. Did graduate work in economics as an undergraduate; swam on the swimming team; played water polo; did some work with some disadvantaged kids on what we called “The Hill” in New Haven. Went from Yale to Oxford University; studied law there for two years. Came back to Yale Law School and went through in two years because Yale gave me a year’s credit for the law degree I’d done at Oxford.
And that’s when I picked up the trail of legal services. Yale had just started a clinical legal services program. And, let’s see, I got there in the fall of 1970. And since I came in as a sort of first-and-second-year student, I was able to participate in it just that very first year. And I was assigned to Newhallville Legal Services, which was a storefront office in one of the poorer districts right outside of the Yale part of New Haven.
Victor Geminiani: The Yale program, or at least the New Haven Legal Services program, was one of the original Gray Area programs funded by Ford Foundation.
Douglas Eakeley: That’s right.
Victor Geminiani: That’s just about three or four or five years after it was created.
Douglas Eakeley: That’s right.
Victor Geminiani: Do you have any memories of those early days in that storefront office?
Douglas Eakeley: Not really, other than going in there and meeting some clients. I remember having to go find a client in a housing project for one matter. It was being part of something that was very special and very new at the time, but I didn’t realize quite how it was until many years later.
In fact, Edgar and Jean Cahn had already left Yale, so I did not ever have the pleasure of meeting Jean and only met Edgar after being sworn in as Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation. Edgar wrote me, sent me a copy of his soon-to-be- published article, thirty years after his first seminal article. And we had breakfast together. And that’s a thirty-year stretch in history and wonderful, wonderful acquaintance. But I did not know at the time that I was stepping into something that they had been very central in helping to establish.
Victor Geminiani: You were a Rhodes Scholar with President Clinton at one point?
Douglas Eakeley: That’s right.
Victor Geminiani: Can you tell me anything about those memories? Has he changed much? Is he pretty much the same?
Douglas Eakeley: I think — well, we’ve all changed, but I think there’s a fundamental identity to the person, and that was there right from the beginning. I think Bill Clinton pretty much knew who he was and where he wanted to go before most of the rest of us did.
I remember — we — the Rhodes Scholars, by tradition, sail to England together. And Bob Reich, Alan Bersin and I were the sailing committee, charged with negotiating with the various shipping lines for passage. We went on the SS United States.
And I just remember my first impression of Bill Clinton as, somewhat unkindly, “is this guy for real?” Just a little too friendly to be true and with his down-home, aw shucks affability, it created some skepticism in some of us more cynical easterners. But it really didn’t take very long to discover that this was somebody who was genuinely interested in not only the world about him, but in the people in that world on an individual basis, and that he had this unerring capacity to relate to people from every walk of life. And that was the lasting impression, and it’s as true today as it was then.
Victor Geminiani: Later on in the 1970s, you became associated with Legal Services of New Jersey, a state support system in New Jersey. Can you tell me how that occurred?
Douglas Eakeley: Well, actually, I graduated from Yale, went to New York City, and clerked for a federal judge, Harold Tyler, and then joined the law firm of Debevoise, Plimpton, Lyons & Gates, now Debevoise & Plimpton, in midtown Manhattan. One of the reasons I joined them was because they were, among a variety of other law firms, very supportive of their lawyers being involved in their communities. And I think within a year or two of my arriving there, I started staking out a pro bono hat that I would wear for the rest of my professional career and did a variety of different things.
I was special counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. And I can’t quite remember how the connection got made, but Alexander Forger, in about 1974, upon being elected President of the New York State Bar Association, also at the time and continuing for two decades the chairman of the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan, found me and said, “Would you help me by writing a background paper for a conference on access to justice that I’d like to have?”
And I did. And he helped get a Ford Foundation grant for me. It was not geared to legal services, but to the needs of moderate income people, legal needs of moderate income people, and their inability to get lawyers. That led to a published monograph called, “A Lawyer at a Price People Can Afford.” That also led to a wonderful working relationship with Alex Forger that in turn brought me onto the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society. I think I was the first associate to join that august body.
I had also become a trustee of the Community Law Offices in East Harlem, and we ultimately formed a volunteer lawyers division for the Legal Aid Society that became the home of Community Law Offices. And while I was still an associate in New York, there’s a very successful fundraising campaign for legal aid every year, and there’s an associate campaign that parallels the campaign among the law firms. And I think in 1978 or ‘9, I became chair of that campaign.
In any event, long answer to your question, in the beginning of 1980, I decided that I really wanted to come home to New Jersey. I had moved back there with my wife and our first child, once Elizabeth started walking. And I had been commuting into New York and decided I wanted to work and live in the same community. That was 1980, early in 1980.
Several months later, I made some inquiries and landed on the board of Essex-Newark Legal Services Project, which was the oldest and largest of the Legal Services programs in New Jersey. I got there through Dick Debevoise, who had been a name partner in the firm which I joined and who then had just gone on the Federal bench. Dick was one of the founders of Essex-Newark and one of the true leaders in the community. About a year later, after the Reagan election, I organized a volunteer program and a fundraising campaign that had not existed before, in order to help supplement what had been lost with the first Reagan budget.
That led to the formation of the Legal Services Foundation of Essex County and my first fair amount of statewide recognition that I was back in New Jersey and an invitation to join the board of Legal Services of New Jersey. And that must have been by then early 1982. And I think shortly after being named to the board, I was elected chair and remained chair of Legal Services of New Jersey for eight years until I left private practice to join the then-new Florio administration in the beginning of 1990 as First Assistant Attorney General of New Jersey.
Victor Geminiani: Do you remember any of your impressions of Legal Services back in the late ’70s/early ’80s when you were intimately involved?
Douglas Eakeley: I’ve got specific impressions of the Legal Aid Society, which was unique. Community Law Offices was a wonderful pro bono project that was a totally different model and very successful in its own right, but I think in many ways, most symptomatic of what I believe to be the situation in some areas by the early 1980s was Essex-Newark.
I came in just after there had been an extraordinary confrontation between the lawyers serving on the board and senior staff. The executive director of the project had been ousted. The board was extraordinarily factionalized. There was virtually no communication, much less support with or from the private bar, any of the organized bar elements; to the extent that the Legal Services lawyers had any contact with private attorneys, it was really — it was almost a mutually agreed-to standoff. Legal Services lawyers really weren’t that appreciative of the private bar, and it was a mutual feeling. A lot of the Legal Services staff, who were excellent, were nevertheless preoccupied with scrambling for scarce resources and competing for those resources, and that, I think, impaired their ability to define and serve the needs of the locality.
Newark, by the way, is the most poverty-impacted city in the United States, defined in terms of per capita income. It is — in many ways — a very devastating, depressing area with
a large population of people who need help in every way possible, which makes it all the more tragic and frustrating: not only the scarcity of resources, but the inability to deliver those resources effectively to make the most use of whatever is there.
In any event, I see that as illustrative of the kinds of standoffs that were happening in different areas as a generation of Legal Services lawyers set up through a federally funded project; enjoying their independence, went on their way, and the private bar, sort of satisfied to have other lawyers fulfill their ethical responsibilities to help others, rationalizing the lack of any need to get any further involved.
Ronald Reagan, I think, and certainly unintentionally, did us a favor in attacking the program as vehemently as he did because I think that the rhetoric and the ideological attacks produced a coming together of lawyers in Legal Services communities in ways that have created new alliances and bridges and ultimately a foundation that is present now and more active and stronger than it ever was before. And I think that that provides us hopefully with a base on which to build, going into the future.
Victor Geminiani: You were not only on the board of Legal Services of New Jersey, but as you said, a chair for a good part of the 1980s. Are there one or two particularly strong memories that you have of the work that you did during those periods of time with that program?
Douglas Eakeley: I’ll give you one positive and one negative.
We litigated for about three years or so against the State of New Jersey to force the state government merely to measure and articulate the standard of need for children on AFDC,
what was necessary for minimally adequate levels of food, shelter, clothing and the like, so that that benchmark could be set against the actual level of funding, in the hope that once the reality of the situation was revealed, state government would do something more to make up the difference.
We had Legal Services attorneys from throughout the state representing Legal Services clients. I represented a cross section of our community groups, over ninety of them, called the amicus petitioners, but we had every major religious organization: fraternal, civic, labor, all participating on behalf of the entire community in an effort to petition the government to recognize its obligation to children living in poverty in our midst.
And we were bitterly resisted by the state government, lost at the appellate division and accomplished a significant victory in our Supreme Court. It’s been a bit Pyrrhic, unfortunately, because since the Supreme Court’s decision, we have had a standard of need that has been duly promulgated and articulated, and no progress made towards raising levels of AFDC payments to get to the point where kids in need can get a little bit more. That was just a wonderful experience because it not only brought together the private bar and the Legal Services community, but the entire community around a cause, which had at its essence securing justice for people in need.
On the other extreme, going from the sublime to the ridiculous — and it was truly ridiculous — I remember our first monitoring visit by the Legal Services Corporation and the total interruption and cessation of activities for a week as Legal Services of New Jersey was monitored. I can’t remember how often we were monitored during that period, but it was quite frequently because of the effectiveness of the program in providing support and taking on test case litigation, training and providing leadership under Dee Miller’s extraordinary command.
To have the agency entrusted with the mission not only of distributing federal funds to support Legal Services lawyers, but with making sure that the legal services delivered were highest quality and most cost-effective, come in and be so perverse in the way it conducted its regulation was just — I don’t know. Hard to fathom then, still hard to fathom now.
Victor Geminiani: I think there’s a general consensus that during the 1980s, there was a relatively hostile environment to work within Legal Services Program. Do you have a sense of the effect that that hostile environment had on the delivery of legal services for low income?
Douglas Eakeley: Well, absolutely. This monitoring example I gave is just a very small indicator of the attitude, but the attitude was followed with regulations and paperwork requirements and a reduction in funding for state and national support as well as for local field programs, but the cumulative impact of the regulatory burden, the restrictions on legislative and class action advocacy, just imposed extraordinary burdens that made already underfunded programs that much less able to do what they’re supposed to do.
Victor Geminiani: There has been some discussion among field programs, and I presume among some of the leadership of LSC, about the need to engage in a healing process. Do you feel that that is in fact a high priority for the corporation, and what can the corporation do to ultimately help in that healing process?
Douglas Eakeley: That is a very high priority for the corporation, but I think those who need healing are not just the field programs. This nation needs to be reminded that justice is a fundamental principle to which we are committed and that Legal Services is an incredibly important part of the job of seeing that people secure justice.
And the very first thing we tried to do and will continue to do is to reach out for field programs and make sure that we understand what their needs are and how we can best meet those needs because the corporation’s role is, as I said before, not only to monitor the spending of federal funds to make sure that the restrictions, to the extent we have restrictions, are complied with, but to actually see that the funds are used for the purposes intended.
And therefore, that means that the corporation has an affirmative obligation to go into the field, to go into the migrant farm workers’ projects and into the Native American programs, and say, “We want to help you.” I don’t want to suggest that we get into the mode of, “Hi. I’m here from the government. I’m here to help you.” Or, “How can I help you?” But I think that there is a very important role that the corporation can play through funding of support, through funding of research and communication, through a user friendly evaluation process that helps programs improve the quality and effectiveness of the legal services that they deliver. That is part, but not all of the healing process, but that’s very definitely an important part.
Victor Geminiani: The latter part of 1993, you were not only appointed to the board of LSC, but you were also chosen by your peers on the board to be their board chair. You have a very busy professional career. Can you tell us why you decided to make that time commitment?
Douglas Eakeley: Legal Services has always been a priority in my professional life. It has become an increasingly significant one over time, but it has always been the source of leavening in my professional life and the principal means that I’ve been able to find to make my own small contribution to equal justice. And I really can’t think of any higher calling than being on the board or, for that matter, being Chairman of the board of the Legal Services Corporation. And that is worth making however much time is required to serve in that role.
Victor Geminiani: Each chair that comes to a committee or a board brings a redefinition of his or her role of responsibilities in relationship to that position. As you think about your role as the chair of the board of Legal Services Corporation, can you tell us a little about how you want to define that role and how you are going to define those responsibilities?
Douglas Eakeley: Well, we’re still in the developmental stage. Actually, we may be there still three years from now, but a little bit more focused and a lot more articulated, I hope. We were sworn in on November 8th. The “we” is eleven diverse, strong-willed people, committed, each in our own way, to legal services and equal justice. We had a board meeting December 4th, 5th, and 6th. We had a board meeting the first weekend in January, and we had a board meeting at the end of January.
So we’ve come together on four occasions as a board, and we’re getting to know each other, but as a starting point, we have had to develop a common baseline of understanding and appreciation for what we were stepping into, an appreciation for the Legal Services Corporation and its role, and then an understanding of how it was perceived and how it was performing in the field. At our last board meeting, I took the last day, the Saturday, to just spend the entire morning among ourselves talking about role and mission and then ultimately opening the meeting up to talk a little bit more about what we wanted to see in a president, as a means of further bringing those issues into focus.
Part of it has to do with what the Legal Services Corporation itself should do. Part of it has to do with what the appropriate role of the board is. We also have a transitional period. We have a national search under way for a new president, but in the meantime, when we came in, we had a president who had been selected by another board, our predecessors, and senior management — actually the entire staff obviously, not selected by the president of our selection, but by somebody else.
So as a first step, we really needed to bring in someone who could help us define what the terrain was, where the problems were and help move in the new direction that we were pretty sure we wanted to go, without waiting to do anything until we got a new president. That’s not entirely responsive to your question, but you’ll bring me back to it, I’m sure.
Victor Geminiani: There is a natural tension and sometimes a healthy tension between the functions of the Board of Directors and the staff. Can you give me any viewpoints or thoughts you had on the relationship that you hope the board will have with the permanent staff which you ultimately will hire?
Douglas Eakeley: This is the tricky part because before Alex Forger and his senior transitional management team came in in January, we really needed to play dual roles of board and management. And so when I assigned oversight responsibility for each component of the corporation to one or the other of our standing committees, I really intended those committees to take a much more drastically hands-on position than might otherwise be appropriate.
Over time, the board’s got to back off from that, but at the time, here we were in November, which was the beginning of another fiscal year, and we had no budget. Indeed, we were told that we had inherited a surplus, but it turned out to be a multi-million dollar deficit on our management and administration line.
We had people talking to the Congress, I thought, inappropriately. We were not speaking as one voice. We had an agency that really had been going in one direction because that was the direction set by the board, and we knew that we wanted to make at least a 180-degree turn. So it was very necessary to assert control initially. Over time, as I said, we’ve got to back off from that. The board really ought to be there serving as a policymaker and as steward to make sure that the corporation discharges its obligations to the Congress and to the public and to those whom it funds.
Victor Geminiani: If you define short-term as one year and long-term as four or five years, can you describe what your vision is both short-term and long-term for Legal Services programs? What do you hope to accomplish?
Douglas Eakeley: Well, this year, this first year, we want to have a new president in place who will take us into the future together, and that is terribly important. We want to secure reauthorization from the Congress, hopefully with as few restrictions as possible. And we want to secure a significant increase in appropriations that at least advances us towards the goal of equal justice. We’ve asked for a minimum access budget increase of some $448 million. That would bring us to $848 million. That itself is more than twice what we have now. The President has recommended a twenty-five percent increase. If the Wall Street Journal is any guide, that itself is going to be an uphill struggle, but it is absolutely vital that we obtain a Congressional commitment to the Legal Services Corporation and its mission in the form of reauthorization and then secure an investment by the Congress of resources to make it work and make it happen.
Now, beyond that, and also in the short term, we have to confront and we are confronting what I call that regulatory burden, overburden, that is now out there and strip away all of the debris that has been intentionally put in the way of local programs’ ability to deliver effectively. Those, I guess, would be my top short-term: president, reauthorization, funding, regulatory reform.
Longer term, I would like to see the corporation develop its role as a primary vehicle for encouraging the nation to do justice. That means first and foremost being the principal representative or spokesperson of Legal Services programs in Washington on issues such as appropriations. More as a catalyst and a conduit and a support than itself a separately staffed, largely staffed, entity. We need to have an agency in Washington reminding our federal government that its primary responsibility is to secure justice for all.
And we need to find a variety of ways to support what Legal Services programs do, not only with federal funds, but also to help them find funds and other resources in their communities that will help them do what they’re doing. We also need to develop the capacity that is currently lacking to improve and enhance the quality and the effectiveness of the legal services that are being provided. We need to develop an appropriate system for monitoring to make sure that the federal funds are used for the purposes intended, but also an evaluation component that helps programs do better with the resources they’re provided. And we need to get beyond questions of access to talk about advocacy and service that inches us towards equal justice as the goal, not merely access to justice and not merely equal access to justice.
Victor Geminiani: Do you think field programs for the most part share in that vision, both short and long-term? Or do you think that there may in fact be differences of opinion?
Douglas Eakeley: There are undoubtedly differences of opinion. This is why the Legal Services community is so strong and vibrant and ultimately so inspiring. The perspectives are different, but the values are fundamentally the same, and the commitment to those values is strongly similar.
Victor Geminiani: I suspect the field programs would agree wholeheartedly with that vision. It’s the implementation of that vision where ultimately the rub might occur.
There are at least three institutions that have traditionally been involved in the delivery of legal services. One of course is the American Bar Association. The ABA committed in 1965 to support federal funding for the first time and has been, through local legal aid societies and local bar associations, highly supportive of Legal Services’ growth in different parts of the country. There’s the National Legal Aid Defender Association that was created in 1917 to coordinate and assist on a technical assistance basis the work of legal aid programs. And there’s the Project Advisory Group that was created in the late ’60s and flourished in the mid-’70s and expanded to become a network of legal aid programs primarily directed towards advocating for
their interests. Do you see any of those three institutions having a problem with either the short or long-term vision that you talked about, and do you see a place that those institutions might participate or lead part of the development of that vision?
Douglas Eakeley: The answer to your first question is no, I don’t see any fundamental divergence when it comes to mission and commitment to equal justice. I would add, though, that we hope that our strong support from the American Bar Association will be supplemented by active working relationships and coordinated efforts with the minority bar associations. And we’ve reached out. Paulette Brown is on our presidential search committee. She’s the current president of the National Bar Association. We’ve reached out to the Hispanic Bar and the Asian-American Bar Associations also.
But to move to the second question, we have done as much as we could physically within the three months that we’ve been going to reach out for and include, in not just our discussions but in our decision-making, representatives of the American Bar Association and NLADA and PAG. Not just those in Washington, but also we’ve tried to go beyond that and make sure that we invite people from the field and from state and national support centers because this ought to be a shared vision and a shared commitment, and we need the insight and perspectives of those organizations and the people and programs they represent in order to develop something that really is consistent with the mission. I don’t think that we’re going to get where I would like to see us going if we don’t go there together.
Victor Geminiani: Do you see any of the three institutions carrying out part of that vision?
Douglas Eakeley: Absolutely. I haven’t broken it down into different roles, but I gave a brief address to the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association this past Tuesday. And I asked them for their active support in Washington to help us obtain a significant increase in appropriations from the Congress and to pass reauthorization with minimal restrictions.
The ABA had, with the Project Advisory Group and the NLADA, developed for us and presented to us the bases for the minimum access budget mark that we presented to OMB and to the President. I also asked the ABA to go back to their representatives, to go back to their states and recommit themselves to partnerships at the state and local level with their Legal Services programs, both through sustained and enriched participation on local boards of trustees or directors, but also through pro bono involvement and local fundraising activities.
We’re not the private bar, nor are we the representatives of the field programs. Indeed, since we fund field programs, there has to be some distance at some points in time between the grantor and the grantee. But together, we do reflect the community of interest, and it’s important that all members of that community participate in key decision-making that affects them.
But we’re not planning to cede control over decision-making or delegate fiduciary responsibilities to one or the other either. The PAG, I think at one point in time, was a more or less official advisory group to the board of the Legal Services Corporation. I would like to see NLADA, Project Advisory Group, and the Center for Law and Social Policy, if not official, at least regularly tapped for input at every point where we need advice and perspective.
And that’s basically what we’ve been trying to do. If you look at every meeting we’ve had as a board, we’ve had representatives of those organizations come in and share a table with us and brief us and advise us.
Victor Geminiani: Since federal funding began in 1965, Legal Services programs have found themselves caught in a political pendulum going back and forth on at least five occasions — or four occasions — actually, five, if you include Bill Clinton’s election. Some have had negative impact on us. Some had positive impact on us. There is an argument to be made that given our client constituency and the things that we advocate for and our clients’ involvement with private and governmental activities, that it is hard to depoliticize this program, although that certainly was the philosophy or theory behind the creation of LSC. Do you think it’s possible to eliminate or at least reduce the politicization of this program, and if so, what role does LSC have in doing that?
Douglas Eakeley: It is important to take the politics out of the program as much as we can. Legal Services has a central role to play in doing that, and this board’s intention is to be as nonpartisan as we can and encourage everyone in the Congress and in the community at large to support Legal Services for the very fundamental reason that we all have a stake in justice. This is an important part of that stake. And there shouldn’t be any politics involved with doing justice.
We intend to go to the Hill and say this is not just a swinging pendulum. We are not a new board going back to the time when things were swinging back. We intend to move in a different direction. And we want your support, regardless of your ideology or your party affiliation. And we think that you should give us that support, regardless of your
ideology and regardless of your party affiliation because helping people in need should be everyone’s concern, not just the lawyers’, but unfortunately a large number of problems affecting poor people are legal problems that are amenable to solution only with the assistance of lawyers. And we need you to help us help them.
Victor Geminiani: You mentioned funding a little while ago. PAG, through a committee of the SEC, developed a new concept which was introduced, I think, in your December board meeting, based on access to justice as opposed to the traditional concept of funding, which has been a minimum access theory. Do you see a differentiation between the two approaches, or is it merely semantics?
Douglas Eakeley: I think there is a differentiation, and the way we’ve tried to formulate it is that — well, I won’t speak for — it is difficult speaking for the board beyond what we’ve agreed to, but I see minimum access funding as a first step towards something longer term and more significant, and that is equal justice. It is, when you think about it, basically an arbitrary definition that was used very effectively by an earlier board, first led by Hillary Rodham Clinton and then Bill McCalpin, to obtain funding for national coverage at a rate of two lawyers per ten thousand poor people. I don’t think that those boards ever intended that to be their ultimate destination and if they got there, they would stop. It’s really a means of measuring along the way how well you’re progressing.
But I think both in terms of its definition and its emphasis on access rather than — as a means rather than results, namely justice, there’s some peril associated with taking minimum access as your only objective. And that’s why I’ve been trying carefully to always talk in terms of minimum access as a first step towards something else.
But it is certainly not inconsistent to seek funding to put two lawyers out there for every ten thousand poor people, adequately supplemented by state and national support and research and communications and technical assistance, but they’re out there to do something, and they’re out there to help secure justice for their clients.
Victor Geminiani: You mentioned before that your board has requested an appropriation of $848 million from Congress, which is a substantial increase over the $400 million that we are currently receiving in Fiscal Year ’94. If you had ten minutes with President Clinton to convince him that this program deserves substantial and quite large increases in its appropriations over the next three or four years, what would you say to him?
Douglas Eakeley: Please feel my pain. [Laughter]
His first priority should be justice. I think it is. I know it is. But it takes some reflection to realize how central to that priority Legal Services is and can be. But if you look at every domestic priority and initiative that the President has offered, all the way down to safe streets and 10,000 or 100,000 more cops on the street, you will find Legal Services advocacy and clients at the center. Welfare reform, healthcare, education, employment opportunities, personal security, juvenile violence: all of these ultimately are affected and will be affected. There will be a greater need for Legal Services advocates if these initiatives go through.
I called the White House last week, didn’t talk to the President, but suggested to the Associate Attorney General that there ought to be an increase in Legal Services lawyers commensurate with the number of police on the streets because over time, the better investment in reducing crime will be with the Legal Services advocacy.
Victor Geminiani: However, we are faced with a massive federal deficit, which has grabbed the public’s attention over the last seven or eight years, nine years. The President seems to have been making substantial progress on that to date. We also have people that don’t necessarily share the importance of this program: for example, the recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which highlighted the inappropriateness of substantially increasing our funding for Legal Services.
This is a difficult question, but realistically speaking, because I understand there is a real desire not to dash hope, and the board has requested a massive increase — but realistically speaking, over the next four years, what do you think is achievable within the federal budget?
Douglas Eakeley: It’s hard to say. It is really hard to say. If we were to assume that the Congress remains where it is and the deficit remains where it is, then we’re not going to do as well as we would like to. I see this as being a very interactive process. The better use of the additional funds we do receive this year will help us to make the case next year for a further increase in spending.
The more articulate we are in reminding the Congress and the President about their responsibility for justice and our role in that, in helping them fulfill that responsibility, the more we’re going to see hopefully a willingness to help. The more we encourage the nation to do justice and to support Legal Services, the more supportive presumably their representatives will be in the Congress to help us also.
So I see us challenged to change a lot of attitudes and perspectives, which we need to do in order to have the type of order of magnitude increase in funding that we’re seeking. It’s clear that we’re not going to get that order of magnitude overnight, merely because we have a new board and a new president; although they are important, because if we don’t have that, you’re not going to have any hope of getting anywhere. But just to have a new board and a new president under these political circumstances with the fiscal constraints you’ve mentioned will not produce an automatic increase of any sort.
In fact, with the earthquake relief bill that went through the Congress last week, the Penny-Kasich amendment to that bill would have reduced our funding this year by — well, it was by five percent, but coming into the middle of a fiscal year, it would have been a ten percent reduction in current appropriations, and that only failed to pass by a narrow margin. So I definitely recognize the political obstacles along the way, but I am very confident in the rightness of our cause and almost as confident in our ability ultimately, if we do the other things I’ve mentioned, to persuade and encourage the Congress and the government to advance with us towards equal justice.
That, incidentally, also raises another point. Another part of the Legal Services role, I think, is to serve as catalyst in the deliberations of cabinet agencies. When the Justice Department is considering a new initiative on access to justice, or for that matter an expansion of the Weed and Seed program, which puts police into a community and attempts to supplement that police presence as stabilizing force with enriched programs for kids and families, or when the Social Security Administration is reviewing its user friendly or unfriendly regulations and operating procedures, there is a role and a seat there at every table for Legal Services advocates with perspectives of what it’s like in the field.
And I think that we can do better by introducing Legal Services advocates from the field into those deliberations in ways that don’t get into the restrictions on lobbying or the like, but attempt to tap that goldmine of perspective in ways that makes the government itself perform better.
Victor Geminiani: 3.5 billion dollars, which is the target suggested by PAG — without any particular time frame, however, suggested for reaching it — is an enormous amount of money in comparison to where we are today, even including all of the funds that come from IOLTA filing fee and whatever.
If in fact the LSC appropriation, realistically speaking, will be able to grow sizably but not to that level, where else besides the LSC appropriation, besides the alternative funding possibilities within the trillion and a half federal budget which you have suggested may be possibly tappable, where else should we look to be able to ultimately bring funds together to secure that goal?
Douglas Eakeley: I’m not sure about the answer. I suppose the answer is everywhere else, but let me quibble with your premise. 3.5 billion is not an enormous amount of money compared to either the overall federal budget, compared to the importance of justice as a principle and a goal of this nation, or compared to the unmet legal needs of the poor in the communities. So I don’t really shy away from the number because it really isn’t a very big number. How many — is it one and a half stealth bombers? I don’t want to get into any hot water, but it is almost trivial, if you compare it to any of those benchmarks.
It’s also true that justice should be everyone’s concern and commitment and that we should not be solely relying upon the federal government to provide the resources necessary for advancing towards equal justice.
With interest rates where they are, IOLTA has been dealt a fairly devastating blow in many states. Clearly that was a welcome supplemental source of funding for many programs over time. I think that lawyers ought to be tithing when it comes to private contributions to state and local Legal Services programs.
To a certain extent, there are other ways in which the federal government should be funding Legal Services because so much of what we do is occasioned by wrongful government actions: a bureaucratic snafu or deliberate misreading of regulations to deny entitlements or the creation deliberately or inadvertently of mazes that people have to walk through in order to get to the entitlement process. We ought to get a commission every time we help a government program work the way it’s supposed to be working.
There may be some sources to look for there, as well as — can we put this on pause for a second in a second?
Victor Geminiani: Sure. [Pause]
Douglas Eakeley: Why don’t we go back to the question, your last question?
Victor Geminiani: Sure. 850 — or three point —
Douglas Eakeley: Oh, other sources of resources.
Victor Geminiani: We were talking about other sources of resources, and we ought to get — for every time we make a federal program work successfully, you talked about tithing for private lawyers.
Douglas Eakeley: I think that again, where we can help is by encouraging the President, the First Lady, the Attorney General and others, when speaking, to talk about Legal Services and its significance as a means of helping encourage the private sector to make greater contributions along the way.
I’d like to see the Legal Services Corporation reach out for corporate counsel and get corporate counsel involved. I know there’s an NLADA corporate counsel role. I would like very much to make sure that the Corporation creates bridges between our programs and corporate America. I think in these ways, by encouraging a greater public awareness and appreciation of what Legal Services programs do, we will be facilitating local programs’ ability to find other resources.
Victor Geminiani: Can you tell me what you think the strengths and weaknesses of our current field program delivery system are as you look towards where you’d like it to be in the ’90s?
Douglas Eakeley: That’s a very difficult question to answer, from a diplomatic standpoint at the very least.
The strengths of the program are that it’s survived under the most adverse possible conditions, and that survival has forged a high quality steel structure and framework that will endure and remain. We are committed to a legal services delivery system, as a nation, I think, that is based and premised upon local programs defining local priorities in accordance with local needs and operated by local lawyers. Supported and assisted, but it’s a model that says we emphasize local programs.
The survival and the forging of that high quality steel has also led to some burnout. It has also, because of the lack of resources and the constant political barrage, as well as the overall political atmosphere for the last decade — greed is in, self-interest, liberty interests are important, but forget justice and community — there really hasn’t been a lot of new and fresh insight, perspectives, people coming into the programs. We’ve not been able to recruit at law schools because there haven’t been that many positions for hiring.
And therefore, there really is a generational gap, I think, between the current Legal Services leadership in programs and at the state and national level and who’s coming up behind them in the ranks. There’s not as much going on at law schools that feeds directly into and enriches Legal Services programs, both by way of students, but also by way of ideas, new delivery systems, new support.
So I think both the strength and the weakness of our current program are its people.
Victor Geminiani: How about our support system, our national support system, state support system, regional training center operations? What do you think the strengths and weaknesses of those entities are at the —
Douglas Eakeley: Well, let’s take state support first because they’re really different, and we tend to — for those of us who are not as familiar as those in the field, I think that we do not help make the case for extra support for each when we tend to merge them together. I come from a state which has a very active, very well-regarded state support program that provides managerial as well as — managerial support, training, issue orientation, but also impact advocacy, both by way of litigation as well as by way of drumming up support in our state legislature for state appropriations to supplement the federal appropriations.
I don’t think it was an accident for the Reagan administration, once it failed in its attempt to eliminate the program, to curtail funding disproportionately for national and state support. I think that was done in recognition of the potential effectiveness of that support in maximizing the effectiveness of the dollars that went to local and special field programs.
So I think that at a state support level right now, my impression, and it’s just an impression, but there’s a lot more learning that’s got to be done, and it’s unfortunate that it’s got to be done on the job, but it’s kind of hard to find another job where you get that learning. But I think that there are a number of states where the potential role for state support centers is not being met, not being realized. That’s a resource problem in part. I think it’s also a political problem, not in an elected political sense, but rather a question of factions or groups finding the means and the will to come together in that program that provides authority and responsibility at the state level for what’s going on in the programs.
National support is as critically needed as state support. I really see national and state support centers as being the best way to supplement the delivery of services at the local level. I see at the national support the problems being more — again, in part, resource-driven, but we’ve got something like eighteen national support centers. There’s a risk of compartmentalization, just as government confronts compartmentalization. There’s a risk of being spread too thinly. It’s very hard to do a lot when you’ve only got two lawyers to focus on national issues of major concern to poor people.
I think we need to think through how we coordinate better, both among and between the national support community, but also with the Corporation, national and state support and local field programs. I think some of this will come into better focus as the Corporation figures out how it can approach the evaluation function better because I think we do or we have the potential of being able to say this is an important mission, an important function, but there might be better ways to do it, and let’s work with you on finding those better ways to do it. I see a lot of potential there, and it’s all upside.
Victor Geminiani: Leadership is accomplished not only by implementing activities, but also by formulating and sending messages, symbols. Have you given any thought to the messages you’d like to send to the field programs and to Congress and to the institutions about what we’re trying to accomplish, what you’re trying to accomplish?
Douglas Eakeley: I suppose I have, but not in precisely those terms. My first speech I gave, which was at the NLADA meeting in Albuquerque some few days, less than a week after I was sworn in as a member of the board and chairman, took pains to say local programs are important. They’re the most important part of what we’re about and why we exist and that we need and want input from the people who are ultimately fulfilling the mission with which we’re entrusted.
I think that over time, another important symbol has to be diversity, not just of people, but that’s an important starting point. In order to be effective in serving the needs of our clients, I think that we have to be more reflective of our clients in many different ways, their needs and interests and their backgrounds.
That incidentally also suggests that we need to find a better role for clients and clients’ organizations to play within the Legal Services Corporation so that we can take input, not just from field programs, but also from clients and clients’ advocacy groups independent of field programs.
I think I’d like to think a lot more about what symbols because clearly we have many stakeholders, and we have many audiences, but we ultimately have a community of interest
that’s as broad as the nation as a whole. And what we do and say in order to persuade and encourage people to be concerned about justice and about equal justice and about how and why it should be sought will depend very much on the symbols we utilize, but I can’t pretend to have those symbols at fingertip at this point in time.
Victor Geminiani: You mentioned compartmentalization of government activities before. There are some that think that Legal Services programs have become compartmentalized a bit in their communities and nationally, and they don’t participate in local or national bar activities quite as much as they should. They don’t participate or provide linkages with other advocacy groups that have at their — as part of their mission common interests or clients. Do you think LSC has a role in trying to reduce or restructure in some way the effects of that compartmentalization?
Douglas Eakeley: Well, I think part of what you’ve just described is the product of a lack of resources and a siege mentality that is very understandable. Once we — if we can reduce the regulatory overhang, get the funding process more user friendly, and increase the funding, I hope that we will be providing local programs and lawyers with the means for participating more willingly in their communities at large.
It’s interesting. You can say the same thing about the Justice Department lawyers. We had this interesting discussion the other day with the Associate Attorney General and the president of the American Bar Association and Roberta Ramos, who will be stepping up to the president-elect position in August. But we were talking about the need for linkages between the Justice Department, the organized bar and Legal Services, and remarking about the fact that it’s been a long time since anyone even wanted to be partners with Legal Services or the Justice Department. The Attorney General has now challenged the lawyers in her department to join the bar association and become active in participating in some of the substantive work of the organized bar, and I think that that would be a very welcome addition for the Legal Services, too.
It’s no accident that Helaine Barnett, the deputy director of the civil division of the Legal Aid Society, has just been elected to the board of governors of the American Bar Association. That is a first. Arch Murray was the first legal aid attorney elected to be president of the New York State Bar Association.
I think the more that we can get out and participate and become part of the overall legal and social fabric in our communities, the stronger we’ll find those communities supporting Legal Services. So it’s a long-run, worthwhile investment, but I also think that the quality of our advocacy will be enhanced by greater participation in the community at large.
Victor Geminiani: Who in the Legal Services community or outside the Legal Services community, either of the two, has most influenced your thinking on Legal Services and its delivery?
Douglas Eakeley: Well, my commitment to justice has at its fundamental core my religious upbringing and commitment. It is very difficult not to think of justice without thinking of our covenant relationship with God and one another. And it’s also very difficult — it’s also easy to forget, but very difficult when reminded — to turn one’s back on someone who said, “Whence wherever you giveth unto one of the least of these my brethren, you giveth unto me. When did I clothe you? When did I feed you? When did I free you from prison?” So that, you’ve got to — I start with the Bible. I think, probably Isaiah as a bridge between Old and New Testaments more than anybody else as a source, and clearly the New Testament and the life and teachings of Jesus.
I jump back in time — or back in time as far as New Testament, but not as far as Isaiah probably to Aristotle .And then I bring that forward. I think that Bobby Kennedy and Nick Katzenbach are sources of inspiration to me. Dick Debevoise here in my own community has always been someone who has been a role model for me. Dee Miller, the president of Legal Services of New Jersey, is a soul brother and constant source of guidance and advice. Those are among the people who have provided me with at least some of my orientation.
Victor Geminiani: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with the readers?
Douglas Eakeley: I am so extraordinarily proud and challenged and humbled by my new position. I do think that for a lawyer, there can be no higher calling. And I just hope that I will meet that calling and do something that makes a difference.
Victor Geminiani: Well, I want to thank you for your time and hospitality this afternoon. You come to a position of leadership in Legal Services at a crucial transitional period of time. I think I can fairly say, speaking on behalf of our entire community, I wish you the very best, and I will thank you now for all of the wonderful things I think you will be doing in the next three or four years.
Douglas Eakeley: Well, thank you. It’s wonderful to be part of that community.