ABA staff member for IOLTA, SCLAID, pro bono. Previously at Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:
|May 10, 2018
|Where relates to:
|American Bar Association (ABA)
|Georgetown Law Library link (possible video):
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library Oral History Collection
Interview with Bev Groudine
Conducted by Alan Houseman
May 10, 2018
This is an oral history of Beverly Groudine. She has been for many years with the American Bar Association. This oral history is taken May 10, 2018 at the Equal Justice Conference in San Diego. The interviewer for the National Legal Justice Library is Alan Houseman. Bev, let’s start with an overview of your background: where you grew up, college, law school, and various jobs you’ve held. Then we’ll come back and focus on aspects of that work.
Sure. I was born in a small town in western Pennsylvania called McKees Rocks. I grew up there. I then went on to college at Tufts University. After college I spent a year as a VISTA volunteer in Atlanta where we put together a Senior Citizens Law Project. I then went on to NYU Law School. There I focused as much as I could on public interest law, and I was in a legal clinic there as well. During the summers I worked at legal services programs in Atlanta and in Seattle. Then I went to the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago for my first job as a legal aid lawyer and I worked there for nine years. Then I went on to the ABA, which I thought was going to be a way station. But I wound up being there for 28 years. While I was there, I worked for the Pro Bono Committee, the Center for Pro Bono, and then I went on to work for the Commission on IOLTA, and for the Legal Aid Committee, SCLAID.
What factors, influences, people, religious background, mentors, whatever led you to go to Atlanta for VISTA, and ultimately to LAF?
Well, first of all, my father was a lawyer. While he wasn’t a public interest lawyer, I and my sister and brother grew up with a real sense of how the law can help people, and how justice is something that one should pursue. So that was an important influence. Growing up in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, also had a big influence on me. It was a working-class community where there were a number of low-income people as well. Our family was solidly middle-class, but we lived in the community because my dad was the attorney for the borough, the township, as well as the school district. I went to grade school with people who were low income, and I saw that a number of people in my class really didn’t treat them well. You could tell that they were poor because they had raggedy clothes and were somewhat unkempt. But I thought that was terrible as a kid. It really upset me, and I would be friendly. Now, the person who was in my class that I remember was a boy, so I couldn’t be too friendly with him, but that certainly influenced me. The idea that poor people would be treated differently because they were poor just didn’t work for me at all. So, I think those two influences were probably most made me want to be a legal aid lawyer.
Both during your VISTA work in Atlanta and your work at Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, how would you describe what you did there in both places, and some of your accomplishments there?
Sure. Well, when I was at VISTA there were six VISTA lawyers and two VISTA paralegals. I was one of the paralegals. We were charged with setting up a brand-new project, the Senior Citizens Law Project. So we would go around to various senior citizens’ housing projects and find out what issues people had, and do legal checkups. So, that was the kind of work we did.
I just remember at that time that I was really deciding. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but I knew law school was quite a grind. I also was somewhat interested in psychology, so I wasn’t sure which to pursue. But the idea that I could help people and that I could resolve their problems was very appealing to me. So, that was a big influence for me to decide to go on to law school. In addition, I received a full scholarship to law school to NYU through the Public Interest Program there, and that was an offer I couldn’t refuse. So the two things made me want to go on to law school.
Then I was at LAF for nine years, six years as a staff attorney and three years as a supervising attorney. While I was there I did a lot of work in housing, both federally-funded and private housing. I also did work in representing battered women and in unemployment compensation. I did have a couple of cases in federal court but, for me, always the biggest accomplishment was what I could do for my individual clients, and I had a lot of them. I always was able — I shouldn’t say always — but I felt that I was able to help them in some way even if I had to tell them that I couldn’t represent them. Just giving them some information, being a good listener, I know had an impact. In fact, sometimes I would be in housing court and someone would be there who had been there before who didn’t come back to us, and they’d say, “Oh, remember, you were my lawyer? You did such a great job. Thank you so much.” That meant a lot to me, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Then you went to the American Bar Association. What led you to leave LAF and go to the American Bar Association?
Well, when I was a lawyer at LAF, of course, I was in court regularly, I did a lot of litigation, and I just got to a point where I didn’t enjoy litigating anymore. Particularly, I was finding with the private evictions, often it was one of my clients, a low-income person, who was against a landlord who was just a little bit above our income guideline. So, often times it felt like it was one poor person versus another, and I just was ready to do something different. The other big influence was that LAF was one of the programs that was unionized, and when I was a staff attorney I was on strike for eight days. That was probably the eight longest days of my life at that point. It was pretty grueling and difficult. But then when I became management I had to cross a picket line, which I had never done in my life. I was informed that the next time there were negotiations with the union, I was going to have to negotiate for management. At that point, I said, “I do not want to be a negotiator for management.” So, those probably were the two factors that made me decide to move on.
You’ve had many roles at the ABA, and I’m not sure which of these to take up and in which order, but let’s start, even though I think it came later, with the IOLTA Commission. Describe the IOLTA Commission and your work around that and its importance.
I started working for the Commission on IOLTA in 1996. The commission is made up of nine members. We are charged with developing policy regarding IOLTA, and helping to establish and provide support and education to IOLTA programs across the country. I started on September 1, 1996. On September 12, 1996, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the first time that the interest generated from IOLTA accounts was the property of the client. This was not what we expected, not what we wanted, and I was plunged into many years of litigation on the IOLTA issue. I will say that when I started working for IOLTA, I had been working prior to that on pro bono issues at the ABA and, of course, I have spent my time as a legal aid lawyer.
The only thing I really knew about IOLTA when I started was that it funded the things I cared about. I didn’t know much about banking. The only thing I knew about Fifth Amendment claims was from my Constitutional Law class, and so there was a lot to learn and a lot to do. The litigation took up a lot of time. We also always did training for the IOLTA programs. We put on workshops twice a year. We provided technical assistance to them. But the litigation was really a focus. While the litigation was pending, the commission played a very important role in many ways. One was we made sure to provide information to the IOLTA programs at every step of the litigation.
When the case, after going to the Fifth Circuit, went to the Supreme Court, the first decision, the Phillips Decision, was rendered against us. It was a decision that basically upheld the District Court that said that this property belonged to the client. However, the case was remanded on the issues of: was it a taking, and was just compensation due? We, at that point, played an important role in explaining the decision. Probably within a day or two of the decision, I received at least two calls from two different programs asking if they needed to shut down their operations. Now, I did learn the importance of a dissent by a Supreme Court Justice from that experience. Justice Souter wrote a wonderful dissent basically saying: It’s a three-pronged test. One prong has been found regarding a constitutional taking, but there are two more, and here’s why I think that, ultimately, this program will be found constitutional. So, it was really a roadmap to us about the arguments to make.
The other thing that we did after that decision came out was get information out to everyone. We basically told them to read the dissent. But then a few months later we went to the ABA board of governors for emergency funding. They provided funding to us so that we could have a summit for all the IOLTA programs to come and talk about the decision and how to approach the press, how to approach the public, how to approach grantees and the courts on this issue, and why our constitutional experts thought we would ultimately prevail. We were able to provide scholarships to each program that needed it to come into this summit. It really helped to calm a lot of the directors, as well as their boards, so that they could go forward. I am happy to say that during that time, only one program stopped making grants.
Oh, and the other thing that we did with the litigation is that at some point we realized that there was a second case pending in the 11th Circuit. We realized that, because the original case had been remanded in Texas for a trial on the issue of just compensation, the Washington State case was going to get to the Supreme Court before the Texas case got back there. We wanted to make sure that the lawyers for the two cases were communicating and weren’t making any arguments that didn’t gel for both sides. So we did bring together litigators from both the Washington State case and the Texas case to meet and to talk and to strategize. We also would attend various moots of the lawyers in the Fifth Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit. So, those are all things that I, as a staff counsel, but also members of the commission, took part in. In all of this we worked with our partners at the National Association of IOLTA Programs. We have a very close working relationship with them. We do most of our work through joint committees with members of NAIP and members of the commission, and it’s been a very fruitful relationship over the years.
What, ultimately, happened to the IOLTA case that went back up to the Supreme Court?
Right, so the case that went back up was the Washington State case. The finding was that, even if there were a taking — there were two types of takings it could be and the court didn’t want to get into that — so the Supreme Court said: Let’s assume there’s a taking, but we know that there’s no just compensation due because there’s no way to provide funds to each individual client, that because of the various costs involved in trying to generate net interest for each individual client it’s impossible and no just compensation is due. So, we overcame that challenge.
However, it was a 5 to 4 decision, and at that time Justice O’Connor and Justice Kennedy were the two pivotal votes. Again, I learned an enormous amount about Supreme Court practice during this time. I had left LAF. I was not litigating anymore. I thought I would not litigate ever again. I did work on amicus briefs for the ABA, and I, as I said, learned a lot about Supreme Court practice. Ultimately, we did prevail. As I said, it was a 5-4 decision, and Justice O’Connor was the pivotal vote. Justice Kennedy not only was part of the dissent on the Fifth Amendment issue, but he basically invited a First Amendment claim against IOLTA. I’m happy to say that that has never happened and I hope it never does.
You’ve been active in many other things at the ABA. Let’s first start with your work for the ABA Center for Pro Bono and the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Services, whatever its current name is.
Sure. When I came to the ABA, I started working for what is now known as Center for Pro Bono. Basically, what I did there is I would go around to pro bono programs throughout the country and provide technical assistance. We would do site visits. We would find out what the programs were doing well, and then how they could be improved. We would meet with judges and pro bono lawyers and the legal aid directors to find out how the program was doing, and we’d look at their operations. I found that really interesting work. I really enjoyed having the national perspective because we’d always learn about what some programs were doing really well. Then we could provide that information to other programs across the country. One of my responsibilities there also was to work on and staff what was known as the National Pro Bono Conference, which eventually the Equal Justice Conference became. It was really interesting putting together sessions and helping to train new pro bono directors. Those were some of the things that I did there.
I worked there for two years at the ABA, and then I was given the position of assistant counsel to the Standing Committee on Public Service Responsibility. It was known as SCLPSR. It’s now what we call the Standing Committee on Pro Bono. There I had two major projects that I worked on. One was to work with the committee on revising Model Rule 6.1. The idea there was to add more specificity, to put in a number of hours that lawyers should aspire to attain in their pro bono work, and also to have categories, and to say that the substantial majority of the work should be done for persons of limited means, was the terms that we came up with.
That process took, from the time we drafted until it went to the House of Delegates of the ABA for the change, probably 2 1/2 years because we held hearings throughout the country. We took written and oral comments. I had to put all those comments together and categorize them, and then the committee had to decide what changes would be made. We also had to deal with internal politics of the ABA because the Ethics Committee of the ABA really viewed the ethics rules as their purview. They were not happy that we were involved in this process. Jumping ahead, when we actually went to the ABA House of Delegates in February 1993 on this, it was such a close vote because the Ethics Committee actually opposed this. They said that it was too much specificity for an ethics rule that wasn’t necessary. The vote was so close. Usually votes were taken by voice, but it was so close that people actually had to stand up and be counted. I’ll never forget the final vote was 219 in favor and 213 against, so it was quite a close vote. Today, I think no one thinks twice about having a 50-hour aspirational goal. Again, it’s not a mandatory rule, but it’s aspirational. That was a big project that I worked on.
The other big one was I was the reporter for the creating the pro bono standards. There were no standards for pro bono. There were the civil standards that had been passed by the ABA, but the committee thought it would be really important to have standards specifically for pro bono programs. I basically had to start with a blank page. It was quite an experience. I did, fortunately, have the mentoring and advice of John Tull who was the reporter for the civil standards. He worked and provided advice for me. He was a consultant to us on it, but I did all the actual writing. There were certainly a lot of portions that were based on the civil standards. But there was a lot that we had to come up that was very specific to pro bono. We had an advisory committee. I met with them regularly. We held hearings on the standards once again. We started working on the pro bono standards in 1993, and it wasn’t until 1996 that they were ready to be passed by the ABA House of Delegates. But that was really quite an experience too. I remember starting, thinking at the beginning, “I have a blank page. I have to now help create these.” I think that the standards have been very useful to programs over the years. They were revised a few years ago, but I think they have been quite helpful, so that’s something I’m quite proud of, having been involved in that process.
You’ve also done some work on the civil standards. Describe the process and some of what happened with revisions of the civil standards.
Just by way of background, in 1996, when I became counsel to the Commission on IOLTA, 75% of my time was spent on that and 25% of my time was spent working as first assistant counsel to the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense. It’s known as SCLAID. Then I became associate counsel. One of the projects that I worked on was the revision of the civil standards. Again, we had an advisory committee. I was not the reporter. Both John Tull and Linda Perle worked as reporters for that. Terry Brooks, who is the counsel to SCLAID, and I worked with the advisory committee. Part of our role also was to really push the advisory committee on issues. Particularly some of the ethics issues could get very thorny. We helped to take part in the discussions about how to basically peel the onion on some of the thorny issues. Again, that process probably took about two and a half years to get the revisions through, mainly because we, again, held hearings and received written comments. We put a lot of those together for the advisory group to consider.
Those standards were adopted by the ABA House of Delegates, I think, in 2006.
What other work did you do at SCLAID?
Well, one of the other major projects I had was to work on comments to LSC on various regulations. I worked very closely with our colleagues at NLADA on that. That was challenging work because some of those regulations can be pretty obscure. One of the regulations that we spent a lot of time on was the revision to the pro bono regulations. That was very interesting work. I also, basically, could be a sounding board for Terry. There were a lot of different ideas we had at various times, and so we would go back and forth. One of the things that I remember so well was that there was a real question about should SCLAID pursue a resolution in the House of Delegates regarding the right to counsel in civil matters? Some people thought that was just pie-in-the-sky, that we would just look silly asking the ABA to ask for a civil right to counsel when, in fact, we knew on the criminal side we didn’t have anywhere near adequate funding. But that was something we talked through a lot. I just remember saying to Terry, “I think sometimes we do have to reach for the stars. Sometimes you have to just try those things that you don’t think really may be possible or people may shun, but let’s do it.” We went forward, and the ABA in fact has a resolution on that very topic. So, those are some of the things I did. I also worked on the Harrison Tweed Award. I staffed that, and was involved in the selection process.
On the civil right to counsel, were you involved with the advisory group that was set up by Michael Greco?
I wasn’t. Terry was on that. He staffed that. No, it was more just the discussions that Terry and I would have, as I said, on various issues. But, no, I didn’t work on that.
Have we covered all the work you’ve done in the ABA? I’m not sure, so are there other things you’ve done at the ABA that we haven’t mentioned?
Well, one thing too that I worked on to some degree for SCLAID was loan-repayment issues. We have a website now that SCLAID has on state LRAP (loan repayment assistance) programs because no one else was covering that. Early on, I remember there was a form that people can fill out to show that they’ve in fact qualified in a given year. ABA made comments on that application, and I spent a lot of time on that particularly. With SCLAID, it’s sort of wherever I was needed, I would fill in.
I think we’ve pretty much covered everything for IOLTA. Another issue that came up with IOLTA that I forgot to mention earlier was that, when the financial crisis hit, the FDIC passed regulations that basically said that, “Non-interest-bearing accounts would have full FDIC insurance,” but the FDIC failed to say that IOLTA accounts would also have full insurance. If non-interest-bearing accounts had that full coverage and IOLTA accounts did not, we were very concerned that a lot of lawyers would say, “We cannot have mandatory IOLTA anymore because we have to look at the interests of our clients, and they have to have full insurance, and IOLTA accounts aren’t providing that.” So, we stepped into high gear, worked with our office in DC, to lobby the FDIC to make sure that IOLTA accounts would have full insurance as well. We were able to prevail on that, and that was pretty critical because, as I said, we really started to see the end of IOLTA if, in fact, we didn’t get full insurance. Now, ultimately, with the Dodd-Frank legislation, we were covered in that. Eventually Dodd-Frank was amended to say that, “Non-interest-bearing accounts and IOLTA accounts would have the same insurance as all other accounts,” which is 250,000 per institution per individual. That was an important effort that the commission was involved in as well.
So, your leadership and involvement at the ABA has given you I think somewhat of a broad overview of access-to-justice issues in the United States?
Obviously, your involvement around LSC regulations, working with [CLASP??] and ABA and other intersections with LSC has given you knowledge about LSC. Given this background — you’ve been an attorney in the local legal aid office, you’ve been at the ABA — what’s your vision for the future of access to justice and civil legal aid? There’s a lot of components you could talk about. I don’t care, cover all of them or only a couple of them, but what is your vision of what you’d like to see happening?
Well, I would like to see every client or every individual who needs an attorney obtain one. I do think that there is a lot that can be done in the self-help field. All of the self-help approaches that are now being used can work for a number of clients. My concern is that there are a lot of individuals who would be too intimidated to do these things on their own, or who do not have the educational skills to handle matters on their own. I think there’s been a real movement, particularly because of the involvement of the judiciary, which has been essential. Having the judiciary involved in our access-to-justice movement has made a huge difference. But I think that they often tend to focus on, “How can we make the courts more efficient?” Because there’s such an issue regarding self represented, trying to find ways to help them has been important. But I would like to see as many people that need attorneys actually get representation. I have concerns that we’re moving more towards focusing on how we can help self-help litigants or self-represented litigants more than trying to focus on ways to have more people have lawyers.
So, that’s something that I would really like to see happen down the road. Will it? Can it? Will we ever have a civil right to counsel for critical matters? I don’t know. The fact that we’ve had this pilot project in California gives me hope, but it’s a goal that may be hard to attain. But that is what I would like to see the future, that whoever needs an attorney actually can get one. We’ve also seen with our pro bono development, there’s been a lot more focus on making it more interesting for lawyers, which is something we need to do, and letting them do brief representation, which is good. On the other hand, again, I think we have to try to focus on getting more pro bono lawyers to do full representation for our clients.
What do you see the role of the ABA and state bar associations in the future?
Well, I hope that they will maintain their commitment, which I think has been very strong, to developing pro bono in the states and nationwide. To try to get more attorneys to do pro bono. To try to understand how to get them to do more pro bono. Also, we’ve seen with the bars their unrelenting support for the Legal Services Corporation, and I think that’s going to be vital to continue, and I think it will. I don’t see them taking on a different role necessarily. But I do hope and believe that they will continue their very strong advocacy to increase pro bono work, and also to have a fully-funded LSC.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this because the ABA does have policy on the fact that we should have an unrestricted LSC program. The restrictions came in to say that, for example, LSC attorneys can’t do class-actions, can’t do legislative advocacy. The idea that, because someone is poor they can’t use all the advocacy tools that are available to people who have more means, is just unacceptable. However, there had to be some thinking about, “Well, if we try and fight those restrictions, will we lose the funding?” I know that back in the days when the restrictions were put into place it was understood, and I did support it and I still support it, that we have to really focus on the funding, and if we try to lift the restrictions we’re going to lose the bipartisan support that we’ve work so hard to attain. But I’m hoping that at some point down the road we can make sure that those restrictions are lifted. The time is not now, by any means, given our political situation in this country in 2018. But I would hope that some way down the line either we can lift those restrictions or we can assure that in every state we have funding available for unrestricted work, and we know that that’s not the case now. So, I guess my vision for the future not only would include having an attorney for anyone who needs it, but to have all the services available to people living in poverty that are available to people with means.
I think we’ve covered most of what we intended to cover, but we may have left out some things, so I want you to add whatever you want to add to what we’ve covered so far that you think we ought to know about your work and your thinking so that we capture it all.
Thank you. I think we have covered most everything. Although, there is one other piece of my background that I almost had forgotten that I wanted to mention to you, that I actually had the opportunity to first work at a legal services program when I was in college. We had a program at my college, it was called Winter Study. We had six weeks available where you could do whatever you wanted. You had to do something meaningful in some way to get credit. I worked, I believe it was my sophomore year in college, at the Boston Legal Assistance Project. It was known as BLAP at that point. What I and two other friends from college did was we went into public housing projects and we worked with tenants there to enforce the Brooke Amendment because the Brooke Amendment was fairly new then. What it said, as you know, was that, “Public housing tenants could not pay any more than 25% of their income towards their rent.” We met with tenants, and we did calculations to make sure that their rent was proper, and in many cases it wasn’t. That was the Franklin Field Housing Project that we spent our time in. It was in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Again, I just really enjoyed the fact that I could work with individuals and help to positively affect their lives. I think that, ultimately, in all the work I’ve done, that’s what I wanted to achieve, to help people improve their lives in some way. I’ve always felt that the fact that someone does not have money should not affect the type of justice and fairness that they receive in the world.
Okay. Well, unless you have something else, we will end this.