This is second and later of his two oral histories with CNEJL. Senior staff member at LSC, headed its research institute, and oversaw its support centers.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Jan 22, 2018|
|Where relates to:||International, Michigan, and National|
|Topics:||Civil legal aid: General and LSC: General|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with Alan Houseman
Conducted by Linda Perle
January 22, 2018
Linda Perle: This is an oral history of Alan Houseman. We’re doing this on January 22, 2018. My name is Linda Perle.
Linda Perle: Alan, I wanted to just start, if you would just give us a very brief overview of your history, your personal history and your professional history.
Alan Houseman: I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado and grew up there. I went to Oberlin College in Ohio, which was definitely the right place for me, partly because it was academically challenging, partly because it was very involved in social justice issues, and partly because it has an internationally known conservatory of music, and while I grew up, I sang, played the clarinet and saxophone, and loved music. So being at Oberlin was a wonderful experience.
Alan Houseman: I then went to law school at New York University. After that, I was a Reginald Heber Smith fellow in Detroit at Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services for eight or nine months, and then I started Michigan Legal Services and ran that for eight years in Detroit. Then I went to the Legal Services Corporation in Washington DC where I put together and ran the Research Institute. After the Legal Services Corporation, in late 1981, I went to the Center for Law and Social Policy as Director, and retired from CLASP, as it’s known, in the end of 2013. Since then, I’ve been president of the Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library, which is the funding entity for the National Equal Justice Library. And I help out NLADA on occasion.
Linda Perle: Okay. Can you tell me, what led you to want to go into the legal aid work that, obviously, has been the focus of your entire professional career. So, I’m just curious about what brought you there.
Alan Houseman: I think there was primarily an underlying view of Christian social justice. I grew up in the Congregational Church, they’re now called the United Church of Christ, in Colorado Springs. I was very active in that church as was my mother. Over time I developed views about what social justice meant. Those were made much more concrete at Oberlin where I ran into some people and got very engaged in a number of social justice activities. But also, I got engaged in reading some theological pieces on social justice. So a primary motivation, I think, was this Christian social justice, social activism background that led me to be interested in legal aid and low income people.
Alan Houseman: I had two mentors who encouraged this as well. One was Norman Dorsen who was a professor at NYU Law School. He was when I knew him Chair of the National Board of the National ACLU, and a very prominent constitutional scholar, and a very prominent Supreme Court litigator. Another mentor was Ed Sparer. When I first met him, he taught at Yale Law School, then ultimately the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He was the general counsel for the National Welfare Rights Organization. He was the founder of the Welfare Law Backup Center. Ed was a very close friend and a very strong mentor. So, besides my social justice leanings, I think both of these two people strongly influenced me to do what I did.
Linda Perle: While you were in law school, you were involved in a variety of activities relating both to legal aid and to social justice more broadly. Can you describe them?
Alan Houseman: Yeah, I did. It was interesting. I was at law school in New York. During my first year of law school, I went to the ACLU and I volunteered. They assigned me to a couple of committees where I took notes. I got to meet there an interesting woman who was then the assistant general counsel of the ACLU. Her name was Eleanor Holmes Norton, who happens to now be the DC representative to Congress.
Alan Houseman: The next year, I got involved with the Law Student Civil Rights Research Council. Out of pure serendipity, the head of it was an Oberlin graduate who had just graduated from Columbia Law School. For some reason he found out I was in New York and asked me to come up and talk to him about working for the Law Student Civil Rights Research Council. We called it LSCRRC. And I did that, and we became very close friends. We still are. His name is Bill Robinson. For that work, I was at the national office as Assistant Director/Associate Director. He kept telling me I was Associate Director, but I never quite understood what the difference was until later in life. My second year I had also put together an effort with Ed Sparer to set up law students all over the city of New York to work in welfare fair hearings. My roommate Ron Pollock and I were co-directing this silly little effort, which made some sense, with law schools working on welfare fair hearings. We trained them and we did some ourselves and we oversaw the effort. Then I ran a summer program for LSCRRC in Cleveland, and was very involved in that.
Alan Houseman: My third year of law school grew out of all those kinds of activities. I applied to the Hayes Civil Liberties program, which Norman Dorsen ran. I was awarded a Hayes Fellowship to work on the Project on Social Welfare Law. It’s called Field Fellow. The Hayes program paid a stipend, which was enough to pay your tuition to law school. In exchange, you worked like you would work on law review. You worked all of your non-classroom time essentially on activities that Norman directed. I worked on the project on social welfare law. We put out a publication. I did all kind of things.
Alan Houseman: For example, there was a study of Hunger USA that Bobby Kennedy was involved with during my law school years. I was working on that part of that whole thing. Not directly with Bobby Kennedy, but with some of the people who were working with Bobby Kennedy on it, and a whole range of issues like that. So during law school, besides going to class, I was also undertaking these other activities, which sort of led to where I might go in the future.
Linda Perle: Immediately after law school, you were a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow. Can you explain a little bit about what that program was and what you did while you were doing that?
Alan Houseman: The Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship program was begun by Earl Johnson when he was deputy director of OEO Office of Legal Services. He then became the second director. The idea of this program was initially to take the best and brightest of law students around the country and give them a fellowship to work for two years in legal aid programs around the country. I was in the second class of Reggies. The first class had 50 Reggies. The second class, my class, had 100 Reggies. Fifty of us were trained at the University of Michigan Law School and 50 were trained at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Because I was married and my wife lived in Ann Arbor and was going to medical school at the University of Michigan, I did my training at Michigan. Ed Sparer was the trainer in welfare. Because he knew me, he asked me to help him do some of the training on welfare, which I did. Then I stayed in Michigan, in Detroit. My fellowship was to work with Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services, which I did. I was treated as staff, but because the money was independent, I had a little more flexibility than most young staff did at Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services. Because of my relationship to Ed Sparer and another person named George Wiley who I’ll talk about in a second, I became involved with representing the welfare rights groups in Detroit and Michigan when I started at Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services. So the Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship placed me in Wayne County and I started developing relationships in Wayne County, Detroit then.
Linda Perle: At some point, you left the Reginald Heber Smith Fellow program and Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services and founded Michigan Legal Services. How did that come about and what are the things you did there?
Alan Houseman: Well, it’s interesting. When I first got to Detroit, I was introduced to a young lawyer who had just gone to Wayne State Law School to be the assistant to the dean. I’m not sure how I ever met this person, but I did. They were trying to put together a statewide legal aid effort, a support effort. When they thought they were about to get the money, this young lawyer named Paul Borman came to me and asked if I would like to direct this. This is out of the blue. I had no idea of any of this going on. I said yes. I didn’t really know what it meant, but I figured, “Well, I can do it, I suppose.”
Alan Houseman: I had begun in the Fall of 1968 as a Reggie. In the summer of 1969, I left the Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship program and I became the director of this new entity. We called it initially Michigan Legal Service Assistance Program. We changed the name to Michigan Legal Services.
Alan Houseman: We were housed for many years in the Wayne State Law School. I was an assistant professor, not on a tenure track, and taught a course each semester at Wayne. Then I took the program and developed it into a statewide support center modeled after the two that I knew about at the time, Mass Law Reform and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. I created this entity that did training and provided backup and advice to legal aid lawyers around the state of Michigan. But we also did major litigation directly ourselves, and we did advocacy, lobbying and administrative policy work in Lansing, the state capitol.
Alan Houseman: I continued to represent the West Side Mothers Welfare Rights Organization in Detroit, which just happened to be the largest welfare rights organization in the country, and represented Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.
Alan Houseman: So that’s how that started at Michigan Legal Services. We developed the program into a number of areas because we had to provide assistance in the major areas of legal services work. So we had a lawyer that worked on housing. We had a lawyer who worked on consumer issues. We had lawyers that worked on a variety of other issues — mental health, health, some domestic violence issues — a range of legal services issues that were going on at the time. We developed a program that had six or seven attorneys working for it and some other folks that worked on a variety of legal aid issues. We were similar to Mass Law Reform and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is what I used as my models. They preceded me by about a year. I had heard about them and modeled my work around what they were trying to do.
Linda Perle: Alan, could you give us some sense of some of the important cases that you worked on?
Alan Houseman: One set of cases were welfare cases. We litigated 20-25 major welfare class actions in federal court and won virtually all of them. We struck down the residence requirement. We created due process rights and fair hearings. We struck down the maximum grant provisions in Michigan law. We’d done a number of things that other welfare rights lawyers around the country were doing.
Alan Houseman: In addition to that, we did housing cases. One of the more interesting cases I did was we held the mental health procedures in Michigan unconstitutional and required Michigan essentially to set up a system where you couldn’t deprive a person of their liberty unless they were dangerous to themselves or others. We didn’t start the standard, but we were one of the early cases that imposed the standard.
Alan Houseman: One of the more lengthy areas I got involved with was the Wayne County Jail case. We brought a case with three private lawyers and myself. Ultimately, a three judge state court held the Wayne County Jail unconstitutional as it was constituted. Ultimately, a brand new jail was built as a result of this litigation. Wayne County was the third largest county in the country then. So this was a pretty big deal. I was involved throughout and ultimately did the briefing in that case. I didn’t handle much of the trial. I was there, of course, but trial work was done by some private attorneys that were co-counsel of mine. But I did the briefing and argued the case in the appellate courts, which we won all the way up. So that was interesting.
Alan Houseman: I think the most interesting case I did relates to the welfare rights stuff. It was one of the first in the country. Many followed, and I’m not sure this is the most important one in the country, but it was one of the first. It was a case that argued that Michigan was required under the Social Security Act Amendments of 1968 to set up a preventive health program under a provision in the statute that read that every Medicaid-eligible child must have early and periodic screening, diagnosis and treatment. That’s all it said. There was no legislative history on this except tiny, tiny — like a single line.
Alan Houseman: We brought a suit that said Michigan wasn’t doing this. We forced Michigan to set up a preventive health program for kids. I got involved with faculty at Wayne Medical School and Michigan School of Public Health. We designed essentially a system for Michigan. Michigan ultimately bought it and set up a very extensive preventive health program. I think that was one of the more interesting cases.
Alan Houseman: I learned later when I got to know Wilbur Cohen, who was the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in D.C., that he had put those words in the statute in 1967 and nobody paid any attention to it. His hope was that somebody like me and others would come along and make something out of this. Wilbur Cohen was ultimately a patient of my wife’s. He’s dead so I can say this, I think. We met up later in life and he always reminded me about how proud he was when legal aid lawyers took those few words and made something out of them. I think that was the most interesting of the cases that I’ve ever worked on.
Linda Perle: In addition to litigation, you did a lot of lobbying during that time as well.
Alan Houseman: Yeah, it was interesting. I lobbied on welfare stuff a lot, appropriations and welfare policy. We lobbied on health policy, Medicaid, obviously the preventive health stuff. We lobbied on new procedures around mental health after we won this decision. We lobbied around a whole set of consumer issues that we won. We represented a group called Citizens for Better Care, which was nursing home recipients. We lobbied in the legislature to get substantial changes in the way Michigan treated nursing home recipients. So there was a lot of lobbying going on.
Alan Houseman: I was up in Lansing a lot driving up from Detroit, sometimes staying over. During most of my years at Michigan Legal Services, I was helped out by two people. One of them is significant. The other one, nobody’s ever heard of except Michigan people. The significant one was Coleman Young who was a state senator and later became the first African American mayor of Detroit. The other was a Speaker of the Michigan House, a guy named Bill Ryan, who became friends with me and was just amazing in helping me get access. He was a Speaker of the Michigan House, so he had a lot of power. He always provided cover for me to work with key players in the legislature to get things done. I’m not sure how I ever got to be friends with him, but we became very good friends. I can tell a lot of interesting anecdotes. He didn’t drink, so that drove all the lobbyists totally nuts because he wouldn’t go to bars with them. He made them come to a cafeteria to meet. He was the Speaker of the House, so they had to do it, of course. He was a fascinating guy.
Linda Perle: What welfare rights organization legal committee were you involved with?
Alan Houseman: Back when I ran these welfare fair hearings during law school, I met Ed Sparer, and I met a guy named George Wiley. George Wiley was essentially the head of the national welfare rights organization. The welfare rights work we did under Ed, who was general counsel for the organization and also professor at Yale Law School and ultimately Penn Law School. There was a group of lawyers around the country, mostly in legal aid, who were working on welfare cases. Ed said, “I don’t have the time to put together any kind of an organization of these attorneys. But we ought to have an organization of these attorneys where we meet at least once a year nationally, and maybe do some regional meetings with people.” So he asked me and a woman named Nancy Duff “Duffy” Campbel,l who just retired as co-president of the National Women’s Law Center. Duffy was an NYU classmate of mine. He asked us to put together a national organization of lawyers working on welfare rights issues around the country. So we did.
Alan Houseman: We met once a year at a national conference and we had regional meetings. Duffy and I divided up the regions. We had meetings with regional lawyers working on welfare rights issues that met for a day. Through that process, I became good friends with George Wiley, and obviously good friends with Ed Sparer. We put together this network of lawyers. We communicated and worked together on various things around the country that were going on.
Alan Houseman: One word about George Wiley, because he may not come up in any of our other National Equal Justice Library oral histories. George Wiley was a fascinating character. He was a PhD at Harvard. He was teaching biology at Syracuse. He was on track to be a major biologist, literally was on a high track. He got very much involved in civil rights. He first was part of CORE and then for all kinds of internal reasons, they sort of pushed him out of CORE. Then he became the head of the National Welfare Rights Organization. He’s smart as hell, and had this whole science career. But then he became very much involved in social justice in the United States. He died in a terrible boating accident in early ’70s. Very interesting guy. Wonderful person to work with.
Alan Houseman: This is a time when there were real welfare rights organizations of thousands of people literally all over the country pushing issues that involved welfare recipients. It was a real grassroots effort. It wasn’t two or three people sitting around a table someplace. In West Side Mothers Welfare Rights, we organized thousands of welfare recipients in Detroit. I would go to meetings and there’d be three or four hundred people there. I mean, this wasn’t small little groups. It was quite interesting and quite a challenge to work with them.
Linda Perle: While you were in Michigan, you were involved in a variety of other activities. The National Lawyers Guild, the state bar, political campaigns. Could you describe some of these?
Alan Houseman: Sure. Sometime in the early ’70s, I had been involved in the National Lawyers Guild a little bit. Many of the lawyers I work with, both in legal aid but more importantly in the private bar, were involved with the Lawyers Guild. They asked me to be Executive Director of the Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. It’s a job but not a full time paid job. It basically meant that I had to organize and run meetings and organize activities.
Alan Houseman: Unlike most Lawyers Guild chapters at the time, our activities were all around litigation. The Wayne County Jail case was a national lawyers guild case. We brought litigation around the country and we worked on real things, not just sitting around talking about things. There were a series of issues in Michigan and certainly in Detroit that the Guild was very active in. So I was very active in the Guild in that capacity. Again, it coincided with my work, so it wasn’t totally alien from my work. But some of it wasn’t things I was working on as much.
Alan Houseman: One other interesting Lawyers Guild activity that we did was when the Attica Uprising occurred in New York at Attica Prison, which is near Buffalo. Detroit lawyers — they were all Lawyers Guild lawyers, but I’m not sure we saw it quite as a Laywers Guild activity — were involved in representing a number of the people at Attica who were charged with criminal activity during the Attica uprising. In fact, there were more Detroit lawyers involved in Attica representation than there were New York lawyers. It makes sense. If you look at a map, Detroit is actually closer to Attica than New York City is.
Alan Houseman: We set up a whole Attica defense effort. Some of us went to Attica and they were in the courtroom representing people. Some of us did not go to Attica but worked in Detroit. We wrote motions and briefs. We wrote them out of Jim Neuhard’s state appellate defender’s office. He was one of the founders, by the way, of the National Equal Justice Library. We worked in Neuhard’s office at night after work writing briefs. We would put them on a bus at 2 or 3 in the morning. The bus would get to Buffalo at 8 or 9 in the morning. People would pick it up there and take the motions and briefs to court. We had this whole system set up doing a lot of the legal work back in Detroit that supported our colleagues who were actually there in Attica,
Alan Houseman: I was also involved in the state bar of Michigan. I was on the board of governors at the state bar as their legal aid person. They finally decided they had to have somebody like that. I was chair of the legal aid committee of the state bar of Michigan. So I was very active involved in the state bar. Probably about mid ’72 to ’76, when I left Michigan.
PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:31:04]
Alan Houseman: Finally, the other activity that I’m proud of is Coleman Young’s campaign for mayor of Detroit. As I mentioned earlier, Coleman Young, who was then a prominent state senator, was one of the two people who helped me get my feet wet in understanding the Michigan legislature and how to lobby. Coleman Young ran for mayor of Detroit and he asked me to be the treasurer of his campaign. I thought that was stretching it a bit, because what did I know about being a treasurer of a campaign? And I said I’d do it if I could at least work with somebody that understood the stuff, which we did. So I worked in the Coleman Young campaign for mayor, and really enjoyed it. It was hard work, but it was fascinating. It was a very racially tense campaign, but Coleman was elected as the first African-American Mayor. He wanted me to become Corporation counsel, but fortunately I had enough sense to know that wasn’t the right role for me, so I never did it.
Alan Houseman: I was very active in Detroit politics, mainly through Coleman, but also in other ways. When I left Detroit in ’76, the city council passed a resolution, which they put on a nice plaque, and Coleman came to my going away party and handed me the plaque. The chair of the city council also came. That was a guy named Carl Levin, who later became a U.S. Senator from Michigan. He just retired this last term. So, Carl Levin and Coleman Young handed me this plaque at my going away party thanking me for my work in Detroit, which I was very proud of. I was very connected to Detroit and the things that were going on at the time when I left.
Linda Perle: While you were still in Michigan, you started working, lobbying for the Legal Services Corporation. Can you tell us about that effort? We’re talking about your role.
Alan Houseman: Right. Now, some of this is captured on an earlier oral history, so I’m not going to go through the whole effort, but here’s what happened in brief. In 1971, I got involved in the Project Advisory Group Steering Committee. They didn’t have anybody representing support centers at the time. I got involved in that committee initially because everybody thought I could help represent support centers. At the time, in ’71, a bill was movd in Congress, which President Nixon ultimately vetoed in December ’71. He vetoed it for a bunch of other reasons. On the legal services part of the bill the veto message said that he wanted a new approach. He had requested introduction of a bill, but it had been amended in Congress. He vetoed the bill primarily because it didn’t give him full control over the board of this new entity.
Alan Houseman: In ’72, another bill went through cosponsored by Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Congressman William A. Steiger (R-WI). I was involved in a decision to pull that bill before it went for a vote because it was clear that the President wasn’t going to sign it because we had not made enough changes in the board structure to please him. So this is now ’73. I got pulled into the lobbying effort in D.C. Up until ’73, our lobbyist was a guy named Mickey Kantor who ultimately became Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration. Mickey Kantor was the lobbyist for the legal aid community. He lived in D.C. and then he moved to California. He was replaced by a guy named H. Michael “Mickey” Bennett, who had worked at California Rural Legal Assistance, and we have an oral history on Mickey Bennett. Mickey called people around the country to help him out. He called me and I came in and helped out the lobbying effort that started then. Ultimately, the LSC Act was adopted in the summer of ’74. There’s a long history of that. My earlier oral history talks about the minute details of that.
Alan Houseman: My role was helping Mickey and the lobbying effort. I was in charge of doing things like writing one-pagers on the lobbying effort, and ultimately writing Senate floor speeches, and doing analyses of various proposed amendments, and working with key staff people in the Senate and House on various aspects of this. So I was sort of the deputy lobbyist. I was not the head lobbyist. That was Mickey, for sure. But I was involved in crafting some of the language that was ultimately put into the LSC Act by the Senate to try to protect some things and to get people on board. So my role was helping Mickey, and doing a lot of the background stuff that is necessary for effecting a direct lobbying effort in Congress — writing one-pagers, drafting language, etc. Mickey was clearly a much more key player in the ultimate lobbying sense, but I was sort of his deputy.
Alan Houseman: I kept a suitcase and a suit and tie in my office in D.C. I would get a call, “You got to be here tomorrow.” I would pack up, call Susan, head out to get the first plane out to D.C., work with Mickey for two or three days, and then fly back.
Linda Perle: Good. And you did a lot of work with some of those entities that supported Legal Services — the Project Advisory Group, NLADA, the Organization of Legal Services backup centers. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Alan Houseman: Yeah. Right. A little bit first, and then I’ll get to that. When I got on the steering committee of PAG, I was put on there because they wanted someone to try to represent the views of support centers, and they wanted somebody that they knew from field work. The steering committee of PAG, for reasons I never quite understood, had very bad relations with the national support centers. One of the things I did was I got the steering committee of PAG and the leadership of PAG and the NLADA Civil Committee, which were roughly the same thing, frankly, to understand what support centers did, and to begin to appreciate the value of support centers. When the LSC Act passed, we had several tasks. There’s a period of time between when the LSC Act passed in July 1974 and when the new LSC board came in, which was ’75, and there’s a lot of reasons for that. The Legal Services Corporation didn’t start until there was a new board that was confirmed, and there are all kinds of issues around the confirmation process. President Ford was still president and the right wing was demanding this and that. What we did was try to prepare for a new board. So we put together a group of PAG, NLADA (which were separate at the time), the American Bar Association, and an entity called the National Clients Council (an entity that represented clients), and it lasted till the mid-’80s. We worked together to prepare a set of draft regulations for the Corporation. It was a joint effort. When we finished this task, at the first orientation of the new board, the president of the American Bar Association spoke and presented to the LSC board the set of draft regulations.
Alan Houseman: The then acting counsel for the Corporation was David Tatel, who had been the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and partner at Hogan and Hartson. He was on leave to work on this. David used those regulations that we had drafted as a basis, or framework, for starting some of the regulations of the Corporation. It became a framework that everybody referred to during the early days of the regulations process in ’75 and ’76. Obviously it was changed and the general counsels that came in, Alice and others, had their own views. But it was as sort of a framework.
Alan Houseman: We also did a number of other things. A fundamental issue the Corporation had to address was the Green amendment, which had been adopted in order to get the LSC Act of 1974 through Congress, and to get Nixon to sign it. The Green amendment said that training, technical assistance, and research had to be done in-house by the Corporation. Those activities could not be granted out. That amendment was sponsored by Rep. Edith Green (D-OR) a conservative who didn’t like legal services. The amendment, she thought, eliminated the state and national support centers. What she didn’t understand was that those support centers — and it said “Clearinghouse activities” too — did training and they did technical assistance. They didn’t do very much research, though she thought they did a lot. But most of the support centers provided direct assistance to local programs on cases, which wasn’t restricted by the Green amendment.
Alan Houseman: So, a big issue for the Corporation initially was, how do you interpret the Green amendment? Does it eliminate the national and state support centers? Or, does it only eliminate certain activities of the support centers? A commission was set up to look at all the support centers and make a report on their activities. I think Linda Perle talked a little bit about this in her oral history. David Tatel developed a legal theory for the support centers to show that certain activities were covered by the Green amendment, but the vast bulk of activities were not. That legal memorandum was much better than what I’m about to describe, but it was similar to a legal memorandum that I prepared as part of the orientation for the new board a year before, which set out a whole theory of why the support centers should be continued. David did a better job than I did, technically, but he did look at my memorandum and thought it made sense and really developed the legal theory much better than I had about why certain functions were OK. So, we had done background work around this leading up to the Corporation’s first decisions. Besides choosing a president and a vice president and that set of decisions, the second major thing they faced was, what about the support centers? And the board ultimately decided to continue funding the support centers based on the memorandum that David Tatel and the new president, Tom Ehrlich, submitted to the board. So the support centers were continued. But some of that work started back before the Corporation began in efforts we made to set it up the way we did. Now, I helped draft this language in the Senate too, but that’s told in the earlier oral history.
Linda Perle: And in 1976 you left Michigan, you came to Washington full time so you didn’t have to have a suitcase to go back and forth? And you became the head of the Research Institute at the Legal Services Corporation. Can you talk about what the Research Institute was, what it did, what was the important work that they did?
Alan Houseman: Tom Ehrlich, the first president of the Corporation, had a vision for the Corporation that was really much more expansive than any of us in the field had ever thought about. One of his visions was that the Corporation should have a Research Institute. Tom Ehrlich had been the Dean of Stanford Law School. He came out of the legal academic community, which may make some sense of this. He thought they ought to have a center in the Corporation that was focused on two kinds of research. One was academic research on poverty law, and the other one was research on the delivery of legal services. He laid out his vision. I’d gotten to know him because I was representing the field in the same way Linda ultimately did, in the regulatory process that was just beginning.
Alan Houseman: Tom and I, at one out-of-state meeting somewhere, had this cocktail or dinner together. He started talking to me about the Research Institute. Would I be interested in coming to D.C. and doing it? I was a little surprised he chose me, and he said, “Well, I talked to Norman Dorsen and I talked to Ed Sparer, and they all say you’re the right person.” Okay, I mean, that’s nice of them, but those were my mentors, and he knew them, of course. So, I came to D.C. My wife basically said, “We’re either going to live in Detroit or you’re going to go to D.C. full time.” And I said, “Well, this is the time to go.”
Alan Houseman: So, we went to D.C. There was no such thing as the Research Institute at Legal Services before. OEO Office of Legal Services had no such entity. So, I was essentially free to set up whatever I wanted. Obviously I met with Tom and I met with Clint Bamberger, the vice president, to get some parameters. But I was basically free to set it up. So, we did both of those types of research. We looked at poverty law developments. We actually funded people we called “Research Institute fellows” to develop and refine some areas of poverty law. The first fellow I picked was Ed Sparer, by the way, to do work on health care. We had a number of fellows that we gave fellowships to work on aspects of poverty law.
Alan Houseman: We ran national conferences on poverty law developments, not new lawyer stuff, but innovative new directions, new thinking around areas of poverty law. We ran conferences trying to set up networks of advocates like we had in the welfare rights movement. We wanted them in housing, we wanted them in consumer, we wanted them in other things. So we’d run a conference, the ultimate point of which was was to set up networks. We wrote numerous papers by the leading practitioners and scholars in the field on new areas of poverty law or developing areas of poverty law, or new ways of thinking about old areas of poverty law. So, that was the poverty law side of the Research Institute.
Alan Houseman: The delivery side started with some initial work I funded to look at very tiny aspects of our system around paralegals and non-lawyers and some other things. But it took off in a bigger way after the 1977 reauthorization of the Legal Services Corporation Act. In the 1977 reauthorization, the Congress added a requirement that the Corporation undertake a study of the special access difficulties and the special legal problems of five groups named by the statute: migrants, veterans, rural people (interesting way of looking at it), immigrants, and Native Americans. Once we understood what it was about, we added two more groups: the elderly and the handicapped. When you deal with the elderly and the handicapped you also have to deal with the institutionalized because many of the elderly and handicapped were institutionalized either in nursing homes or in mental health facilities. So we did this delivery study around the access difficulties and the special legal problems of these groups and produced a number of reports on them. It led to a number of policy changes of LSC.
Alan Houseman: Also, there had been a quality improvement project that started out under vice president Clinton Bamberger’s authority with some money earned after the LSC invested its appropriation for a couple of years and earned interest on it. Congress stopped that, finally. Bamberger’s effort used that money and developed this quality improvement project. They funded a number of programs and a number of ideas that I took over ultimately when Clint decided to leave LSC. So, that was a whole set of development things. We had preventive law projects, we had paralegal projects, we had disability projects, we had the first technology projects that preceded a lot of the later technology work.
Alan Houseman: And then, because of my role on the senior staff, and this odd place I was at with the Research Institute, I got assigned to do a part of the work of what’s called the Next Steps Taskforce. I focused on support and some other things. When the Corporation decided to do another support study in 1978, I got involved in writing the initial options paper on unmet support needs and the final policy on support, which came out of the effort that Judy Riggs and I did together. That was delivery work, that wasn’t substantive work. That was much more delivery issues around support. And that result led to an expansion of the national support centers.
Alan Houseman: We added three new support centers; one on domestic violence, one on immigrants (the National Immigration Law Center), and the National Veterans’ Law Center. Then we funded some other things. We funded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to provide support to the legal aid programs on civil rights, for example. So, we did a number of new issues that came out of that support study.
Alan Houseman: Right at the same time there was a reorganization of the Corporation. Tom, in his wisdom I think, was annoyed at how state and national support were being overseen. So he said to me, “I’m going to add to your research responsibilities a role for you to fund and oversee state and national support and the clearinghouse, which had been another part of the Corporation. So I got these things. Support I knew about, the clearinghouse wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I then had the responsibility for doing that as part of the work at the Research Institute. I continued the Research Institute substantive work that I described, I continued the delivery work we were doing, and I got added this new set of responsibilities of overseeing and funding the support centers which is where I created the new ones, because I had money to do that. We set up a whole system, a review of the support centers that hadn’t existed before. I had a very prominent, terrific ex-legal aid director do a study of the support centers that led to some changes in how they were funded, and more importantly, how they were viewed in the community.
Alan Houseman: Working with Clint Lyons and the new people in the office of field services, we expanded substantially the state support entities like Michigan Legal Services. We tried to create a state support “something” in every state of the country, and we had some money to do this. I got involved in basically overseeing the development of this at the Corporation. By the time of the Reagan Administration in 1981, the Research Institute was not only doing research but we were actually managing the whole support system that existed at that time.
Linda Perle: With the election of Ronald Reagan and the appointment of the new board of directors, there was a big shift, both in terms of what happened to the Corporation and then your role. Can you describe what you did in the survival campaign?
Alan Houseman: Yes. When Reagan got elected, the question was, since Reagan proposed to eliminate LSC, what should we do to try to prevent that from happening? Well, the American Bar Association, led by William Reece Smith, geared up in a major, major way to come to the rescue of Legal Services. They’d been a strong supporter, but nothing like they did then. There was a march on Washington by ABA leaders and bar leaders all over the country, for example. That continues every year to this day under as “law day”. But inside the Corporation there was considerable turmoil, and outside the Corporation there was considerable turmoil. Various groups were trying to be leaders, but nobody knew exactly what to do.
Alan Houseman: So, because of my prior experience with the LSC Act and an advising role to Judy Riggs around the LSC Reauthorization of ’77, Dan Bradley, the new president of LSC, asked me to try to put together inside the Corporation somebody that dealt with various aspects of the field, with NLADA, and with PAG. Of course, LSC had their own staff doing the direct lobbying work on the Hill, which I had nothing to do with.
Alan Houseman: Dan and I were both a bit naïve, but it more or less worked. The purpose was to try to get all the field actors working together, and to try to get everybody on the same flight, and to not have NLADA or PAG, or someone, going off on their own somewhere. The field programs formed a coalition of the National Clients’ Council, PAG, NLADA. It was this weird internal coalition of entitities that shouldn’t need a coalition. It wasn’t a coalition with the Bar, and it wasn’t a coalition with other groups. It was an internal coalition, which made no sense. But that’s what happened.
Alan Houseman: So I, inside the Corporation, was working with the outside groups and in the internal groups. This was not free of tension, by the way, at all kinds of levels. I tried to make sure that the outside groups didn’t go off half cocked and were working together with the ABA, which was over here, and with the LSC people, which were over there. Then we had some kind of a coherent, effective synergy in the work that needed to be done to keep LSC alive. There were all kinds of things going on. One of the things was regional meetings around the country which LSC set up to energize people, to give them information and to get them involved to the degree possible. I was asked to set up the regional meetings, which I did with the regional offices. We had meetings in every region of the country. I spoke at all of them. My role in that whole survival effort was inside the Corporation and trying to coordinate with all these other folks to make sure that the field stakeholders didn’t go off half cocked and didn’t undermine work that LSC lobbying people were doing and that the ABA was doing.
Linda Perle: And what was the ABC committee?
Alan Houseman: When Dan got to the Corporation in 1979 as president, Clint Lyons had just been appointed as head of field services and Bea Moulten had just been appointed at the office of program support. They were appointed by Thomas Ehrlich in ’78, and replaced other people that had been there. When Dan got in he said, “I need a group that doesn’t include all these other folks in the Corporation, but just looks at the delivery and training issues.” And so we formed what was called the ABC Committee, which was Alan, Bea, and Clint.
Alan Houseman: Gerry Singsen was then at the Corporation and sort of semi-replaced Clint Bamberger. Bucky Askew was the deputy director to Clint of the Office of Field Services. They sort of served on this committee as, I don’t know, secretary, or something. So we met, this was before the Reagan stuff. We met, and we worked out together how the Office of Field Services, my office, and the office of program support would work together and present jointly to the board and all that stuff. So that was the ABC committee.
PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [01:02:04]
Alan Houseman: Once the Reagan Administration got into power, it was clear that, first, there was a fight for survival and, second, that the funding of LSC was likely to go down. The ABC committee worked tirelessly behind the scenes to try to figure out what we did with the various parts of the Corporation that existed. The 1977 reauthorization essentially eliminated the Green amendment except for the research part. So it said that you could fund, by grant and contract, training and technical assistance and clearinghouse activities. We had kept them internally up until then. So the ABC committee looked at what the legal options were for funding and we looked at what changes do we need to help field programs so they’re prepared for significant budget cuts in the future? What changes do we need to make internally so that the key parts of the Corporation and key activities of the Corporation can continue when a new Reagan crew came in? It was pretty clear this was going to be a wrecking crew. How could we protect key aspects of the Corporation? So ABC committee, Gerry and Bucky worked together with a private consultant. We thought through what ought to happen.
Alan Houseman: The result was this. We created regional training centers which we funded by contract, which we could do by grant. We created a substantive technical assistance program at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which we could do. We created a management training program at NLADA by grant, which we could do. We spun the clearinghouse out of LSC, back to an independent entity. We created the national clearinghouse with a board, which I put together and funded by grant so it was outside of the Corporation. We worked with field programs to get them prepared for what they were going to face. To do that we added some money. We called in the Wharton School of Finance at University of Pennsylvania. There was a guy there was a major player in the nonprofit world. They put together a series of trainings and papers and technical assistance to help field programs adjust to this world where a large part of their budget was going to be cut substantially.
Alan Houseman: Clint, Bea and I — and Bucky and Gerry — worked together to make sure all this happened. We crossed every legal T technically correct and did everything correct legally. We provided the help the field programs would need to adjust to this new world. They had been in a world beginning in 1975 where the money was expanding. It went from $70 million to $321 million. That’s a whole different world than when your money is collapsing from $321 million back to $205 million or so. Nobody was prepared for that world. We knew the Reagan people were coming in. So we did all these changes internally through the ABC committee to make this happen.
Alan Houseman: The result of all this was that the regional training centers continued until 1996. The NLADA management grant was ultimately cut by the new guys, but that created the Management Enformation Exchange, which essentially took over those functions. The Western Center’s grant ultimately ran out and was not renewed. But by then we had invigorated a national support system that could take over those functions. All of those things happened in 1981 before the new guys came in in late ’81 and started essentially tearing the Corporation apart. The other thing we did was we kept the research. We buried it somewhere else and it lasted for another year, but then they got rid of that too. The new guys got rid of that.
Linda Perle: In 1981 you left LSC and went to become the executive director of CLASP. Can you just describe generally what your role was there and specifically the work on legal services.
Alan Houseman: CLASP had been a public interest law firm from 1969 until1981. When I was asked to be executive director, it had for a variety of reasons essentially lost virtually all of its funding and most of the staff. Part of that was because the National Women’s Law Center, which had been part of CLASP’s women’s rights department, spun out and became its own entity. There’s some other reasons, but essentially there was not much there. So the board asked me to come and put together a civil rights and poverty law organization at CLASP, which was some of what it had done in the past, but not all of what it had done in the past. I came and it took me a while to figure out exactly what was possible. Finally we decided that we ought to first try to work our way into the legal aid world, which I had been a part of all my life and knew backwards and forwards.
Alan Houseman: Then secondly, we tried to develop areas of work that were not already well handled by major players in the civil legal aid world or the national support world. Third, we tried to develop some areas in civil rights that weren’t already being covered by the existing civil rights organizations, which were effective and good. I put together an effort to try to create at CLASP a general counsel to the Legal Aid Community. And ultimately that’s what our work that Linda Perle’s oral history describes at some length, so I won’t go over here. That work was providing assistance to field programs heading up regulatory efforts and involved the reauthorization of the Legal Services Corporation.
Alan Houseman: The second focus of CLASP was trying to look at areas of substantive law and policy that weren’t being totally covered by the national entities. The first area that we opened was child support. It wasn’t being covered very well if at all by the national entities, a little on periphery here and there, but not much. I hired a person named Paula Roberts who had been with me at the Research Institute. She was very interested in child support and we built up a whole area around child support. We also began looking at other areas that seemed to have less advocacy efforts. Some of those were childcare and early education, workforce development training, job training, those things.
Alan Houseman: I got a lot of pressure — from a couple of people not in the legal aid world, but the public policy world of DC, particularly Bob Greenstein at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — to do work around public assistance. While that was overlapping with what the welfare law center did, a lot of people didn’t feel they were doing the policy work well in Washington around that. It’s a debate whether that was accurate or not. Bob helped me get money from foundations. Ultimately I hired a guy named Mark Greenberg to come in and head up this effort around public assistance. So we were doing work around child support, child care and early education, workforce development and welfare reform and that network continues today. We didn’t do much work around health. We did a slight amount of work around public assistance and Medicaid, but we weren’t a Medicaid player. Obviously when you’re doing public assistance you have to get involved with food programs. We didn’t try to become FRAC, the Food Research and Action Center, but we did some work around food stamps. The Center on Budget did that too. But nobody, at least at the level we did, was doing some of the other areas that I mentioned. So that’s what CLASP ultimately became.
Alan Houseman: I still spent much of my time working in the legal aid world on the things that Linda had described earlier. Because I had to fund raise, I spent more and more time on other work and less and less time on legal aid work. CLASP is funded by major national foundations. But I always kept my fingers in legal aid work and went to all the conferences — and when crises occurred would jump back in full time.
Linda Perle: Alan one of the things that I didn’t talk much about, but you were very involved in were the two transition periods in 1992 and 2008. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Alan Houseman: Sure. In 1992, Clinton wins the presidency. I had known Hillary when she had been at LSC as board member and board chair. I knew her before that when she was at Childrens Defense Fund (CDF). Peter Edelman was the husband of Marian Edelman, who ran CDF. Hillary had been chair of CDF’s board and they were all good friends at the time. Peter was asked to put together a transition effort around domestic social policy. Peter asked me if I would essentially do the work around the LSC transition. I said, okay. He said, “Well, I’m going to have a little team working with you, but everybody knows you’re going to do the work.” So he create a little team to work with me and, but basically Linda and I did the work. We wrote drafts. We wrote the transition report. We did a bunch of other things as part of this effort to prepare the Clinton Administration to move forward with LSC. LSC had been in Republican hands for years. We worked with people in NLADA and developed a set of possible members of the new board, which the transition team was handed with all that stuff. This 1992 transition was a lot looser and less structured than the 2008 transition. But it was a pretty effective transition.
Alan Houseman: The 2008 transition was a much more structured. Beginning after Obama was nominated, before he was elected, there was a transition effort headed by John Podesta, who was then the head of the Center for American Progress. And John Podesta asked several key people to head up various aspects of the transition and asked them to pick people to work on the transition. One of the people that was picked was Tom Perez, who became the Secretary of Labor. He’s now the head of the Democratic National Committee. Tom Perez was picked by Podesta and asked to put together the Justice Department transition, the Health and Human Services transition and there was one other one piece. He asked me to be head of the legal services effort under this transition structure. He said, “You can pick whoever the hell you want to work with.” Of course I picked Linda first. Then I picked a couple other people to help out.
Alan Houseman: That was a much more structured effort. We had a preliminary paper that was done in the fall of 2008 before the election. The election happened on Tuesday. The transition office opened Friday with a very structured, all-day training of the transition team. They had a very clear set of things that we had to do and reports we had to write in a very stylized, structured a format. Part of what we had to do was go to the agency, interview people and go through all these things. Then we had to write a very stylized report to the transition on what the new administration is trying to accomplish and who they should try to hire and various things like that. It was a much more structured and effective effort than the 2000 and, I’m sorry, the 1992 transition. So we did all those things as part of that 2008 transition and developed a transition report that was ultimately used by the Obama Administration. We submitted a set of names of people to pick for the board and a number of them were picked. All of that was pretty effective at helping the administration get its hands clear about what to do with legal services.
Linda Perle: One of the other thing that we didn’t talk too much about it during my interview was litigation that we did during the time you were at CLASP.
Alan Houseman: So on the legal aid front, one of the things we did was we tracked and provided assistance to lawsuits that are brought either by or against legal aid programs. These were not client representation suits, but suits against the program for allegedly doing something wrong. or by by the programs, challenging LSC policies. We tracked that litigation and we provided advice for that that litigation. On occasion we actually did some of that litigation.
Alan Houseman: For example, the Reagan board was meeting without notice and without giving notice of the contents of their meetings before the meeting. We brought a lawsuit under the Government Sunshine Act that said they had to notify everybody a week or so before in the federal register before they met, and they had to provide materials for what they were going to discuss seven days before they met. They couldn’t just drop it all the day of the meeting. That was an example of a successful lawsuit we brought. It stopped one of the meetings and forced them to change the whole way they did these things. This was the bad guys doing it, not the good guys. That was an example. We brought several others.
Alan Houseman: LSC and the new guys that came in then try to defund the national support centers, the state support centers, the regional training centers. These were all programs that were funded by grant and they were ongoing grants. I got involved in all of those cases. Mike Trister, a private lawyer, and I represented the state support centers. There was a suit brought by the national support centers to stop their defunding. Rick Cotten headed that. I helped Rick on some of that, but he was the main lawyer.
Alan Houseman: They were trying to defund the regional training centers. Paul Tagliabue undertook that case for Covington. The only reason I mention Paul’s name is he became the commissioner of the NFL later on. His primary client was the NFL and it was fascinating. We’d be in these conference rooms listening, talking about the regional training centers and he’d have to take a conference call on the NFL and he would just keep us in the room and listen to him talk, it was fascinating stuff. He was the general counsel and he helped out on this. Those suits all won. The national clearinghouse, they tried to defend it and we got private lawyers and I worked on that case and those all won.
Alan Houseman: The one we didn’t win — odd case though — was about a new reg on redistricting-related activites. There was always already restriction on redistricting activities but it didn’t cover private funds. The LSC put a reg in that also covered private funds and we sued to stop that reg. The two organizations that were plaintiffs in that case were California Rural Legal Assistance (led by Jose Padilla) and Texas Rural Legal Aid (led by David Hall). We have both Jose’s and David’s oral histories. In that case we sued to enjoin the restriction so far as it tried to protect private funds and we lost that case. Oddly enough, Judge Mikva was on the court of appeals for the DC circuit and is the one who wrote the opinion that upheld the Corporation’s power to do that. I was not happy about that but that’s the only case we really lost of these various cases. So that was the litigation part and we played that role.
Alan Houseman: CLASP played another role after the 1996 amendments. There was this huge emphasis from a few people in the legal aid world to sue to try to hold unconstitutional these the appropriations riders that restricted programs, including their non-LSC funds. Before the lawsuits were brought, the national ACLU and I sat down and had a long meeting and this was very tricky. We were dealing with an extremely sensitive issue of keeping LSC alive because the Gingrich Congress wanted to get rid of LSC in three years. Their plan was: you’ve got one third one year, one third the next year, and one third the last year, and that’s it — the glidepath to elimination, which had strong support in Congress. Gingrich had the House. The Senate was much better, but we were nervous about this. So we had this big worry that they might actually succeed this time.
Alan Houseman: There were three groups in Congress. There were people that didn’t want LSC at all. There were people that wanted a restricted LSC. And then there were people that wanted a robust LSC. But there was not enough of the robust LSC group of members. So the restrict LSC advocates and the robust LSC advocates had combined together to keep LSC going on a restricted basis. Suing to try to undo the restrictions would not go over very big with this key block of Congress people and senators who wanted a restricted program — and they were key to our survival. So there was a tension between a lawsuit and ultimate survival of the Corporation. So I sat down with the ACLU. They said they wanted to bring the lawsuit. I tried to work with them on a timing where we got through some of the stuff in Congress before we sued. I tried to work to tailor these suits so that it wasn’t quite as bad as trying to throw the whole thing out.
Alan Houseman: Ultimately there were two sets of lawsuits brought. A group on the West Coast — programs in California, Oregon and Hawaii, I’m not sure about Washington State — brought a lawsuit. Then a group in New York brought a lawsuit. We worked with both of them. We were a little less collegial with the people in New York, but we were quite collegial with the people on the West Coast and their lawyers.
Alan Houseman: The West Coast lawsuit had a very positive impact on things because the Corporation put in a regulation on non-LSC funds that was not good. The West Coast lawsuit essentially forced the Corporation to redo its regulation on what you can use non-LSC funds for. We cleaned it up in a very, very helpful way so that programs could take non-LSC funds and send them out to other entities to do restricted work. They couldn’t do it themselves, but they could send the funds out and they could create interrelated organizations that could do this work as long as it met certain criteria. That was a very positive lawsuit, but ultimately it lost on the merits. There was a preliminary injunction, then the Corporation changed its policies, then it went to the merits and ultimately the court upheld all the restrictions.
Alan Houseman: With the New York lawsuit, the same thing happened except for one restriction, which I always thought was a little questionable. The ultimate New York case went to the Supreme Court, but not around the lobbying part of the welfare restriction. The restriction said that, if you brought a welfare case, you couldn’t seek to challenge the legality of the provision you were arguing about. The Supreme Court struck that down in a case called Velasquez. We were less involved in that than the West Coast one. That’s some of of what we did.
Linda Perle: Okay. You did a lot of work with the ABA during your time at CLASP. Can you talk a little bit about of that?
Alan Houseman: For many years I had worked as a staff advisor to the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID). I wasn’t ever on the committee. Everybody that got on the committee said, “We’re not putting you on the committee, Alan, but you’re going to come to all the meetings and you’re going to essentially do the background work to help the committee on legal aid stuff.” So for many years I went to all the SCLAID meanings and I did background work for the committee and pushed them on some things. Secondly, around 1990, there was a consortium of partners at the American Bar Association that included SCLAID, the pro bono office, and a bunch of others. Esther Lardent essentially ran this thing. Esther put together a small group of people called the Special Committee on Access to Justice. I was on it. Earl Johnson was on it and he’s the one that was pushing it. Jack Londen was on it. He we was a private lawyer in California who was very prominent in the legal aid world and civil rights world. I got them to add a key player in the labor movement. We had a key player in the business world. Esther was the person that brought this all together and she was a key player in both the corporate and private lawyer pro bono world.
Alan Houseman: That commission functioned for awhile. Earl and I did a draft paper that was hard to do. But we ultimately put it out together. We were trying to move forward a whole access to justice agenda. Earl was big on the right to counsel in civil cases. I was pushing a broader look at access to justice than Earl’s virtually sole focus on the civil right to counsel. So we had this commission that worked, produced a report that never went anywhere, and that was that.
Alan Houseman: In 2005 a new president of the ABA came in, Mike Greco, a Boston lawyer. In the mid eighties Mike Greco joined with a New Hampshire lawyer and a Texas lawyer and formed the Bar Leaders for the Preservation of Legal Services. Ultimately these three people moved up in the ABA structure. Mike ultimately became the president. The Texas lawyer, Bill Whitehurst, is a friend of mine and we have his oral history, which talks all about the history of the bar leaders. Bill’s oral history talks all about the history of the bar leaders. So all these people moved up in the structure of the ABA. Bill Whitehurst became the head of the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. Jonathan Ross, the New Hampshire lawyer, became head of the ABA Pro Bono Committee.
PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:33:04]
Alan Houseman: As president, Mike wanted to do the next round of legal aid. Two things started. One is the revision of the ABA standards, which Linda talked about in her oral history. The second thing was Mike put together a Presidential Commission on Access to Justice. I talked to him. I said you have to have a head of this that has political viability in the Republican world, as well as the Democratic world. So you just can’t put up one of our Democratic friends, which is easy to do. I said the perfect person for this is Howard Dana. Mike said, “Oh my God. You’re right.” He called up Howard Dana, and Dana said, “Okay, I’ll do it, I guess.” Dana calls me and we talk about it. I said, “You got to do this, Howard.”
Alan Houseman: So Howard becomes the head of the committee. I’m in Colorado, which is relevant to this. I get this phone call from Howard. He says, “Okay. So you talked me into being the head of this, so I have to have somebody that’s going to do the staff work.” I said, “Well you have the whole ABA staff.” He said, “Nah, I want you to help me on this. I’m going to ask Earl to help on the right to counsel stuff because I know we’re going to deal with that. I want you to help me on the rest of this stuff.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “You’re not going to be on the committee, but you’re going to come to every meeting, you’re going to staff it, and you and I are going to work together on this.” I said, “Alright.”
Alan Houseman: So, this commission was formed. Prominent people were on this commission. From the legal aid world we had Martha Bergmark, Peter Edelman, and Lonnie Powers. All of whom we have oral histories on. We had other key players on this commission — former ABA presidents and leading bar people. The Commission did two things. The thing it’s most famous for now is it developed a recommendation to the Board of Governors of the bar, which they ultimately adopted, that argued for a right to counsel in civil cases involving basic human needs — state by state, but that was their resolution. That’s led to a whole set of activities around the ABA. Earl Johnson did the staff work on the first thing. Mind you, there is an ABA staff here.
Alan Houseman: The second thing is the part I was involved in. We created a thing called “Ten Principles for a Civil Legal Aid Delivery System.” The ABA had, in the past, developed a thing called “Ten Principles for Public Defenders.” So we did the Ten Principles for Civil Legal Aid. We did ten principles, and then a whole long report about the principles. Then we developed an evaluation instrument that states could use to evaluate their activities to see how close they were to meeting the ten principles. That’s what I did. I worked with Howard on this. Bob Echols was doing some work for the ABA at the time, and he worked with me on this. We produced this Ten Principles and this evaluation report, which the Board of Governors of the ABA ultimately adopted in the summer of 2006 when Mike’s term was up, along with the right to counsel resolution.
Alan Houseman: The other ABA thing that I was involved with, which I think was important, was in 1993. ABA, and SCLAID in particular, decided it needed to do a legal needs study. There had been one done in 1971 or 1972 or something like that, but there wasn’t a recent one. They decided to do a legal needs study. They created an advisory group to oversee the study, which I was on. We hired a prominent research organization out of Philadelphia to do the study. I was involved with trying to develop some of the questions we would use in the study, and I pulled together all kinds of people to help me with that. Lonnie Powers was also involved with that. Done in late 1994, the ABA National Legal Needs Study produced some reports and a lot of data. Then there was a committee set up afterward that I was on. We met for a year and produced a report on the implications of this study for the delivery of legal aid. So, that was the other ABA thing that I was involved in.
Linda Perle: Alan, outside of your work on legal services in this country, you did work on legal aid issues internationally. Can you talk a little bit about some of that work?
Alan Houseman: Yes. Two things. In the mid 1990s, a group was formed called the International Legal Aid Group. It originally was researchers from developed countries — Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States a little bit — the European countries that had advanced legal aid systems. They had a couple of international meetings. I attended one of the early meetings but couldn’t go to a couple of the others. In 1999 they held another conference in Vancouver, and they asked me to come. Earl Johnson was then very active in this organization, and had encouraged them to get me back into it. I’ve been going to that ever since. Every other year, this group holds a conference somewhere where papers are presented. New ideas and new developments are discussed among all these various groups.
Alan Houseman: So I became the reporter on legal aid in the United States to the International Legal Aid group. I also do some of my own studies and writing that gets reported at these conferences. This group tries to involve leaders of the programs in these states in this. It’s somewhat successful in that, and somewhat not successful. It depends on the country and the timing. There’s a lot of things that make it difficult for the United States LSC people to come to these meetings. It’s politically dangerous. For some of the countries, some are the key people, and some of them aren’t. I’ve been involved in that.
Alan Houseman: One thing I want to say about this, our system is different from all these other systems in several fundamental ways. One, every other country — all of them — has one integrated system with public defender and legal aid together. We’re the only country in the entire world that has a civil legal aid system separate from a public defender system. Two, in all of these countries, literally every one, the government, usually the Ministry of Justice (which would be our equivalent the Department of Justice), runs the programs. This is true even in Canada, where it’s a provincial program, not a national program. So the Ontario Ministry of Justice, or whatever it’s called, runs the program, not some separate entity. Third, with some exceptions, most of these programs are Judicare programs. They’re private lawyer programs. The government funds private lawyers to do certain kinds of cases and oversees that funding. It doesn’t go through some intermediary. There’s all kinds of nuances in this, and there’s various different kinds of programs. These three fundamental differences make it difficult to draw direct comparisons between our country and other countries. They’re structured and run in a fundamentally different way. It’s been fascinating.
Alan Houseman: The other thing that I did was, beginning in 2006, I became involved in a thing called the Russian-American Rule of Law Project. This project was run by my friend John Dooley. He was on the Vermont Supreme Court, was the founder and Director of Vermont Legal Aid, and was the person that I hired at the Corporation to do with me the 1007(h) study of access and special legal problems. So, John and I were very close friends. He asked me to start participating in this effort. The Russian-American Rule of Law Consortium was one of the two actors that were working in Russia to try to help the new Russian government after communism develop an independent judiciary and rule of law system. The other was the American Bar Association, which had a program in Russia, too. Our program was a little different. What we tried to do was create a relationship between an American jurisdiction, usually a state, and a Russian state, and work the system backwards and forwards, upside and down, every which way, from the highest level at the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice down to the clerks and the people in the courtroom itself — not just the judges, but the court. We worked with the police. We worked with the lawyers. We worked with the law schools. We worked with the judges, both the highest court judges and the lower court judges. We worked with the Ministry of Justice, which is different in Russia than our Department of Justice. We worked with all of those.
Alan Houseman: My role initially was to try and set up a legal aid program in Russia, which I worked on. Then it also became trying to help the law school develop clinical programs. Then it morphed into continuing both of those and helping the lawyers, the advocates, develop ethical standards, which didn’t exist in Russia. So I worked from 2006 until about 2012 when Russia kicked us. That’s a long story. I won’t go into it.
Alan Houseman: On these three activities, we ultimately set up a very effectively legal aid program in the state I worked in, Karelia which is in western Russia, bordering Finland. We set up a clinical program in the law school in Petrosovadzt, which became the model used all over western Russia including Moscow State and St. Petersburg, the two elite law schools in Russia. We created a set of ethical rules in Karelia That was then adopted throughout western Russia as the ethical rules for lawyers. So on those levels, as of 2012, one could say we were fairly successful. I think it made other progress. By 2012, this was all being cut back. For every step forward, we were going two or three steps back. Then they kicked us out of the country, and that was that. That was the work that I did in Russia. Fascinating work. Interesting.
Linda Perle: In 2013, you retired from CLASP and since then you’ve devoted a lot of time to the National Equal Justice Library, which is sponsoring a series of oral histories. Can you talk to us a bit about that?
Alan Houseman: Sure. There are two affiliated entities. The National Equal Justice Library, the archives part, is at Georgetown Law Center’s Edward Bennett Williams Law Library, which is one of the best law libraries in the country. The library tries to collect documents and materials on the history of civil legal aid and public defense in the United States. The library also gets visitors. Sometimes I’m involved with that, and sometimes our archivist, Katherina Hering is involved.
Alan Houseman: The Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library, which is what I’m the head of, is an independent 501(c)(3) organization that raises money to pay our archivist. We record a set of oral histories on public defense and civil legal aid in the United States, The Consortium also puts on programs at every NLADA Conference, and some of the other conferences, that try to bring history to bear on current activities. I try to oversee all of this.
Alan Houseman: At the last NLADA conference, which was here in Washington, D.C., we had a program on what can legal aid teach us about the future. Earl Johnson, who was the visionary behind the library, was there. I was there. Jo-Anne Wallace, who is the President and CEO of National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and came out of the defender world, was there. We had several other people such as: Jose Padilla, head of CRLA and Jon Asher, head of Colorado Legal Services. We have oral histories for both of them. Silvia Aguilar from Los Angeles was there. They all talked about what history tells us about the future. It was a very effective program. I didn’t really expect a big audience, but the room was packed, and there were people standing out the door. People loved the program.
Alan Houseman: That’s the kind of thing we do at every conference, so somebody has to organize that, put it together and make it happen, which is what I do. So, that’s what I’ve been doing at the library. I’ve continued my work with the international legal aid group and writing my update on civil legal aid, and I help out NLADA a tiny bit.
Linda Perle: Okay. For your long, historic career you have received numerous awards and honors. Can you just focus on a couple that that meant the most to you.
Alan Houseman: Here are the two that meant the most to me. In 2006, the Oberlin College Alumni Association gave me the Distinguished Achievement Award for Oberlin College. I had no idea this was going to happen. I was totally shocked that I was receiving it. I had no involvement with it. I just ultimately got a letter saying, “Well, we decided to give you this to you.” I still, to this day, don’t know quite how it happened, but I was very proud of that. Oberlin College had a huge impact on my going into this work, and the friends that I’ve kept life-long, and it meant a lot to me. The other one that I think meant the most was in 2014 I received the Earl Johnson Award at the Western Center on Law and Poverty annual dinner, which is quite an amazing event. It’s a fascinating event in itself, but Earl established the award the year before for legal aid people. They give other awards at this event. They give an award for California advocates, which is a nice award. Earl’s award is for those who made a significant dent and helped make a difference in legal aid. I received that award in 2014 from Earl at this event. I was very proud. The last recipient of the award was the former Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. So, I find myself in good company with a person that I admire who is a great, great person. That award means a lot to me.
Linda Perle: Okay. You’ve spent a lot of your life writing various things about legal aid, I’m just wondering if there’s any key articles that stick in your mind that you really feel were some of the high points of your work?
Alan Houseman: Okay. There’s two. One you and I did together, Linda. We wrote a history of civil legal aid called, “Securing Equal Justice,” which I revised, and should revise again. It’s a history of 80 or 90 pages, which you can actually read and absorb. It’s used all over the civil legal aid world to help new lawyers, and new board members in local programs to understand what civil legal aid is all about. I think that was an important achievement, and a very good thing that we did together. I’ve done other histories. John Dooley and I did an early history in 1984. I dothis writing every other year, and I’ve done some other stuff. I actually think “Securing Equal Justice” is the most important of that set of work.
Alan Houseman: The other set of work, which I have done historically is in various iterations. It’s totally different than that. It’s looking at substantive poverty law, and trying to foresee the direction it should take so that it remains relevant and effective. I’ve done a number of papers around this subject. I think the most important paper I did on this subject was one that John Dooley and I did in 1981 in the Clearinghouse Review. It talked about the impact of changes going on in Congress on social programs — welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. — and the implications of those changes for the future, and how legal aid had to respond to on the ground in its actual practice. Not policy. Not trying to stop the changes, but assuming it’s happened, which it did, what the impact of that will be on the practice and how we have to adjust our practice on account of that impact, and still remain effective and relevant.
Alan Houseman: That paper was a lead article in the Clearinghouse Review. We used that paper for conferences all over the country, regional conferences that talked about this, which John and I would do either alone or together. It took awhile, but it led to a lot of changes in legal aid practice in certain areas. I followed up that concept in a number of papers that I’ve written over the years. I wrote another one in 1990, another one in 1996, another one in 2000. I just finished one a couple of years ago that was similar to that. But the one in 1981 that I did with John Dooley was the most important of these. Those are the two writings that have made the most impact in the legal aid world.
Linda Perle: Well, this has been for me, fascinating, a little bit of a trip down memory lane. People who are going to watch this oral history and read the transcript are going to learn so much about what’s happened over the years in legal aid. What do you envision for the future of civil legal aid and access to justice?
Alan Houseman: This could be a long answer. I’m going to keep it very short. Right now, there is a strong movement to create a hundred percent of access for low income and moderate income people in the United States. I very much agree with this movement. If you sketch out what it has to include to be effective, I start in a little different place than some people. I don’t mix up a broad access to justice agenda with funding full service civil legal aid programs. I think those are two distinct and separate activities. But I do think that an effective full service civil legal aid program that has the capacity to do full representation including impact advocacy — not just brief advice — is essential to any system of access to justice. It’s the bedrock of that system.
Alan Houseman: In addition, I think we need to keep exploring the right to counsel in civil cases. Most civil cases do not have a right to counsel. A few do. We’re beginning to develop some areas. New York, D.C., and parts of southern California have a right to counsel — some by statute, some by Constitution — in eviction cases. We’re going to see a growth in this. But I don’t think it’s ever going to reach, at least in the foreseeable future, a stage where there’s a right to counsel in all meaningful civil cases. I think there’s going to be incremental movement on this. We’ve set up around the country self-help centers for so called self-represented litigants. I’m not sure “self-represented” is the right word, myself, but that’s the word that’s used. These are litigants representing themselves in court. I’m not sure they’re representing themselves, The most advanced of that set of programs is in California, where there’s a program in every jurisdiction and it’s run by a manager who is paid full time to run the program. Virtually nobody else has anything like that.
Alan Houseman: The whole effort at self-help centers, helping people who are representing themselves do better at it, make sense. I think you have to have, as well, a system where there are ways that you can go on a computer, fill out a set of questions, and it formulates a complaint. The complaint is filed in court. You have to have a whole set of approaches. New York has got the most sophisticated approach in that now, California used to, but now New York does. You can now file a complaint like that in court and it goes right to the judge. It’s not an intermediary. It gets filed and it’s already part of the system, and it becomes a case, and it’s controlled by a judge in some cases. I think you need that.
Alan Houseman: We need to get non-lawyers more involved in access to justice. Legal aid programs use non-lawyers extensively . People that argue this seem to forget that, but it’s true. A third of the professional staff in the legal aid programs is non-lawyers. They do very effective advocacy. It’s important that we explore, and if it works, expand the use of non-lawyers in a lot of ways. The New York initiation efforts are the best at this. We now have access to justice commissions in 40 states. I would like to see them expand to every state. These oversee developments in each state on access to justice, and work on a range of things including funding civil legal aid, pro bono initiatives, delivery initiatives, etc. Ultimately, courts have to change the way they do business, and the way they process cases. There’s got to be efforts in some areas of the law to simplify the law to make it easier to use. There’s a range of things that an access to justice agenda has. Expand use of law students is another one.
Alan Houseman: The bedrock to me of this is a well funded, extensive civil legal aid program. That’s got to be the core of any access of justice system. It’s got to have a major funding source at the state and federal level if that’s going to succeed. Other funding for some of these other activities that I’ve talked about should come at the state level, but not at the expense of civil legal aid. The state that has this right is New York. Under its former Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman, New York expanded an access to justice agenda that includes all the elements I just talked about. But if you look at what it actually did, it poured a hundred million dollars a year — a huge amount of money — from the justice budget into civil legal aid. It also explored non-lawyers with the navigators program, explored some other things, but those were minor — one or two million dollars. The main thing is that every year a hundred million dollars, new money, goes into civil legal aid. It’s a massive investment they made in civil legal aid. I think that’s right. Helaine Barnett, the former President of LSC, runs the commission that Jonathan set up. That emphasis on expanding civil legal aid and expanding other aspects of this, and improving the court system is the right way to go. It’s the right approach, the right emphasis, and the right framework for the future. That’s my vision. There are a lot of ways we’re going to get there, but that’s my vision.
Linda Perle: Thank you so much. This has been fantastic. Thanks.
PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [02:02:57]