Henry Sommer oral history, 2016

President of the National Consumer Bankruptcy Rights Center and longtime leader on bankruptcy and consumer law at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. Played key public interest role on bankruptcy legislation in Congress.

Oral history details

Storyteller: Henry Sommer
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: Apr 26, 2016
Where relates to: National and Pennsylvania
Topics: Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy Reform Act, Congress, Consumer law, Housing, and Poverty law
Law type: Civil
Collection: NEJL
Georgetown Law Library link (possible video): http://aspace.ll.georgetown.edu/public/repositories/2/archival_objects/401
Length: 0:38:15

Full text of transcript

Download PDF: Transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with Henry Sommer
Conducted by Alan Houseman
April 26, 2016

Alan Houseman:
This is an interview with Henry Sommer. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library. The date is April 26, 2016, and we are at the Community Legal Services offices in Philadelphia.

Alan Houseman:
Henry, I want to begin with a brief overview of your background and professional life and then we’re going to come back and talk about your work at Community Legal Services and elsewhere. But let’s start with where you grew up, then law school and all, college and whatever.

Henry Sommer:
Well I grew up mainly in Albany and Schenectady in upstate New York, just outside Schenectady. My parents were immigrants, refugees from Europe really. I went to a suburban type of high school and I was always fairly interested in liberal and progressive causes. My father was interested in that stuff.

Henry Sommer:
I went to Harvard College where I was active in the student movement and Students for a Democratic Society, and thought about becoming a history professor and whether I wanted to go to law school. By the time I was a senior I applied to both and I was accepted to both. Then I had to decide. But the college campuses were becoming less exciting places to be, so I figured I might as well learn a skill. I went to Harvard Law School, which allowed me to stay in Cambridge and be near a lot of my friends.

Henry Sommer:
At Harvard Law School, my primary activity and almost my only activity there was the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau where I met a lot of lifelong friends and really got involved in legal aid type of work. When I got out of law school, I looked for a legal services job in the Northeast. I applied to a number of different programs. CLS in Philadelphia seemed to be doing a lot of exciting work. It happened that that year they got a big infusion of money from what was then called Title 20, which Governor Shapp, the Democratic governor at the time, directed to legal services. This allowed them to hire 20 new lawyers. I got hired and started working in a neighborhood office and stayed in that neighborhood office basically for the 21 and a half years that I was here.

Henry Sommer:
In terms of what I did is I started out as a generalist. Well first it was a neighborhood office with four lawyers, the most experienced of which had four years experience. But he left after a few months and then the most experienced lawyer had two years experience. I was pretty much self-taught. We were generalists at that time. I did family law, I did welfare law, I did privacy, I had a First Amendment case that the went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. I did Social Security cases. I did something of everything. That was interesting, but kind of draining. I started getting more involved in consumer law fairly early, partly because CLS didn’t have anybody who was really doing that much with it. We sort of took on some of the most persistent problems.

Henry Sommer:
There was a ring of speculators that was kind of buying up bad consumer paper and having sheriff’s sales at people’s homes and then becoming slumlords. I started filing some cases against them. I filed the first class action actually when I was at CLS for three months and that sort of led to other cases against them over the course of a number of years. Aided partly by the passage of the Bankruptcy Reform Act, we eventually ended their business.

Henry Sommer:
Our three or four person office consolidated with another office after I’d been there for about a year. We then had about a 15 lawyer office, and that allowed us to specialize. Then I mostly did consumer and housing law. We always called it consumer and housing because you lost your house for consumer debts in many cases. We were protecting people’s housing, but may not landlord/tenant primarily.

Alan Houseman:
Right.

Henry Sommer:
I did more and more of that. In 1978 I went to a CLE about this new bankruptcy law. I started thinking about how it could solve a lot of the problems we were dealing with, utility problems, welfare problems, Social Security problems, all of which I knew about because I had had this generalist background, family law problems. I wrote an article for the Clearinghouse Review, which was the legal services publication, about that. That sort of made me the national expert on bankruptcy law and legal services. Our office started to do a lot of bankruptcy work to try all these theories, which were largely successful. A couple of years later, at the time that there was a danger of legal services being defunded — I guess ’80, ’81, ’82, the beginning of the Reagan years — one of my colleagues from my office was on a site visit or whatever they called them at the National Consumer Law Center and the National Consumer Law Center was thinking of memorializing all of its body of knowledge in case they went out of business in a series of manuals.

Henry Sommer:
My colleague said, “Well, who’s doing your bankruptcy manual?” They hadn’t thought about doing a bankruptcy manual because they hadn’t been doing bankruptcy work. Then they asked me, because I was the national expert, having written an article, and I then really had to learn a lot of bankruptcy to write the manual, which I did over a couple of years and it came out.

Henry Sommer:
Then one thing led to another. I became involved in some national CLE’s on bankruptcies, some national bankruptcy groups. I was asked to write some of the consumer portions of the bankruptcy treatise Collier on Bankruptcy. I became more and more involved in different bankruptcy things. I was eventually on the bankruptcy rules committee, which was appointed by the Supreme Court, and so that was sort of how the bankruptcy part of it developed.

Henry Sommer:
We did a lot of Community Reinvestment Act challenges in the 1980s as well. Because of my consumer work I had been put on this Federal Reserve Board Consumer Advisory Council. I learned a fair amount about the Community Reinvestment Act because that was one of the things that they dealt with. Then fortuitously we had a number of community groups that came to us and said they wanted to challenge a bank merger. So we became very involved in that and then several other bank mergers down the road over the next eight or 10 years.

Henry Sommer:
In any case, I did Community Reinvestment Act work, working with community groups. We did some other things around banking law, did a fair amount of legislative work. I testified in Congress a number of times on bankruptcy law. I testified in the state legislature about various consumer issues. I got to know someone who became the speaker of the Pennsylvania House. He appointed me to the IOLTA board, so I was on the Pennsylvania IOLTA board for about eight years.

Henry Sommer:
Basically I stayed in that neighborhood office and we had a phenomenal group of lawyers there. I mean the people who pass through that office, you might know some of them, Ellen Josephson who became Ellen Vargas. They had a woman by the name of Alba Martinez who became the-

Alan Houseman:
Ellen Vargas worked for me for awhile.

Henry Sommer:
Okay. Alba Martinez, who became the human services commissioner. Two of my colleagues in consumer law who became bankruptcy judges, and another who does a lot of consumer class actions and another that teaches at Temple Law School. We just had a great group of people for about a 12-14 year period from about ’77 to ’91 or so. We had, 15-20 cases in the Third Circuit on consumer bankruptcy law mostly and it was a really just an exciting time. The consumer law retrenchment in terms of getting more conservative didn’t really happen as quickly as the welfare law and some of the other areas, so we were really scoring a lot of victories. We had a case in the US Supreme Court in 1990 that was handled by one of my colleagues and I wrote part of the brief, where we actually had the Supreme Court hold that criminal restitution could be discharged in chapter 13 bankruptcy. It took Congress about two months to change the law after that. But you know, we went into that case figuring, hey, nothing to lose, we’ll never win. Sure enough, we did. I had another case in the Supreme Court on a procedural issue that I won back in 1982 or so. That was a really exciting time and we were really at the cutting edge of consumer law and bankruptcy law nationally for 12-15 years.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Let me just ask a question from your resume and we’ll come back to that.

Henry Sommer:
Yeah.

Alan Houseman:
When you left CLS, what did you do?

Henry Sommer:
When I left CLS, I tried to sort of keep doing most of the things I had been doing. I had a sort of a three pronged idea. I had been writing, I was updating the consumer law center manual every year, I was working on Collier on Bankruptcy. That was one thing I wanted to continue to do. I moved to a pro bono project that we had set up a number of years earlier to handle chapter seven bankruptcy. I worked there like initially one day a week and then it went down to half a day a week, sort of supervising some of the volunteers that they had there. Then I initially was of counsel to a small firm. One of the partners in which was my former colleague Eric Frank, who later became a bankruptcy judge. I worked there just so I could have a place to hang my hat if I wanted to work on class actions. At that time I thought, well I need to handle some cases to make enough money to live on.

Henry Sommer:
I was of counsel for about 10 years. I got involved in one big class action with another former colleague who is still a consumer class action lawyer, David Searles. That was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, in terms of in my career anyway, in terms of dealing with the big firms, just trying to paper you to death, and even, not David so much, but his partner who was more interested in the money than some of the other aspects of the case. We ultimately got a very good result, but it was so unpleasant that I said I’m not going to do this anymore. I didn’t have to because, fortuitously, a couple of years after I left CLS, Collier gave me a lot more writing to do, which provided enough income so I really didn’t have to worry about making money elsewhere.

Henry Sommer:
Then a couple of years after that they made me co-editor in chief for the treatise and all the other Collier publications. I really sort of got out of private practice. I never really got used to being in private practice. I didn’t like the having to ask clients for money, for fees. I was used to not charging my clients and I didn’t like the worry, the big focus on getting fees and the consumer class actions. I stopped doing the private practice for all practical purposes after about seven or eight years, and I was just doing the pro bono project a half day a week.

Henry Sommer:
I guess the other thing I got very involved in starting in ’92 was a national group that we started called the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. I didn’t found it. A couple of the people who founded it called me up and asked me to be on their initial board. It started out with like 65 members. At its peak it was up to 4,000. We have about 3,000 now. That became a vehicle for legislative work, which I still wanted to do. We all started doing amicus briefs in cases all around the country and Supreme Court cases on bankruptcy issues and we eventually spun off a 501c3 to do those. I’m the president of that now. I was the president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys for four years, from ’05 to ’08, so I’m still pretty active with that group.

Alan Houseman:
What is the Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project?

Henry Sommer:
That’s the pro bono project. That’s a very small pro bono project. It has two full time staff people. Remember, we started a clinical course there about four or five years ago with Temple Law School. We have some law students come in who I supervise. I guess I didn’t mention my other teaching. I taught a course at Penn for a couple of years, a seminar with the then not very famous Elizabeth Warren, who came to Penn. She came to Penn. Actually, her first book had just come out. She had done a study with a couple of other professors of consumer bankruptcy debtors. I figured I should get to know her so we had lunch together and you know, that course sort of grew out of that. It was probably the closest she ever came to an actual bankruptcy case. She is a bankruptcy expert, but from a more theoretical point of view.

Henry Sommer:
We had students handling cases and then we read various writings by different people, including her, about consumer bankruptcy, some of it law and economics, which students recognized it as nonsense when the writings were talking about all these supposed rational motivations of the poor consumers who are filing bankruptcy. That has nothing to do with the people I saw. Also we talked about legal services and some of the issues in legal services. Then she actually, like, I remember, she got called to testify in Congress, was asking me for tips because I’d done it a few times, and obviously she was a quick study, she was incredibly telegenic, persuasive, very great on her feet and went on to some bigger and better things eventually. I did that too.

Alan Houseman:
All right, well let’s go back to your CLS work a little bit.

Henry Sommer:
Sure.

Alan Houseman:
I think you explained sort of why you went into this, but how important do you think your work was and the consumer work at CLS was? In the legal aid context.

Henry Sommer:
I think it was real important because, number one, there weren’t that many programs doing even the consumer law that we did. Again we were setting a lot of precedents, but especially in bankruptcy. We sort of set the path for those programs that started to do it. Unfortunately, most legal services programs never did bankruptcy. But for the ones that did it, we certainly led the way. I like to think that the manual I wrote was really helpful in that regard. We did a lot of training and I did training for legal services obviously around the country too. So I think we really established a model. In consumer law the old legal aid model had been, oh, you make payment agreements for people. They’re being sued, let’s make a payment agreement. I was really influenced in law school by the Gary Bellow method of handling cases, which was that’s not what you do. You litigate, you treat your client as if they were a client of a Wall Street law firm, and you do everything you can for them and you deal with their problems aggressively. We really started doing that. People had not been doing that in Philadelphia or very many other places in legal services before we started.

Henry Sommer:
I think we sort of established a model for doing that then that carried over to the bankruptcy law and the use of bankruptcy for poor people. Again, legal services had basically not been doing it at all anywhere. I had probably handled two or three bankruptcy cases before 1978, and so we set the model for that. Of course I did consumer class actions. I did a lot of other class actions initially. I did a welfare class action, I did a Social Security class action, I did an employment class action, privacy, child dependency. I can’t even remember. A number of other things when I was still a generalist. Those things were important too.

Henry Sommer:
But certainly if I made a mark anywhere it was in the consumer in bankruptcy area. I think it was important. Truth in lending, which was sort of our bread and butter initially, has kind of faded from the scene in terms of the law and people are doing less of that. There are new statutes that have followed on over the years, which other people have taken up the mantle for. Obviously the National Consumer Law Center, which I have worked closely with certainly since ’79, ’80, does a phenomenal job in helping people do those sorts of cases in legal services and outside of legal services now. They’ve established a big relationship with a lot of the private consumer lawyers. I like to think that, you know, we played a significant role in getting that ball rolling, along with others obviously.

Alan Houseman:
When you look at these legal needs studies around the country, most people just quote the one data from it, which is 80% of the people have legal needs that are not being served. But if you actually look at them, one of the largest areas of need is consumer, broadly. Obviously you have to break that down. But if you look at housing and consumer and family and public benefits and this and that, consumer is way up there, way higher than it is in legal services practice. There’s obviously a need, assuming these studies are valid. For the moment, for a given, although I had something to do with the major ABA one, so I have some idea how they were actually set up, but let’s assume they’re okay. It’s showing this huge need, like 23% to 25% of the clients have consumer problems but only 12% of the caseload of legal aid programs is consumer, that kind of thing. Or maybe ten percent consumer. I’ve always found it odd and wonder why the legal aid programs aren’t more responsive to what this need is.

Henry Sommer:
Yeah. I don’t know … I mean, I know some of the reasons. I think for example with bankruptcy, it used to be it could be done pretty inexpensively with a private lawyer. So legal aid staff maybe felt like we don’t really need to do that. It’s not true anymore. Since the 2005 law, bankruptcy has really gotten a lot more expensive. But there was that, I think. The Consumer Law Center always was fighting this perception by legal aid staff who didn’t see it as being as important as getting people income or getting Social Security or welfare. Whereas the Consumer Law Center says this is the flip side. If you lose your income because of consumer scams, it’s the same dollars. It’s just as important.

Henry Sommer:
Of course, where we were, consumer law meant you could lose your house. Philadelphia had a lot of low income homeowners, and still does. When I started at CLS houses where five or ten thousand dollars in low income neighborhoods. So you could lose your house initially from consumer debts. Then of course the finance companies started taking mortgages, so you could still lose your house to foreclosure. We were dealing with all of those sorts of issues.

Henry Sommer:
In some places there’s this idea that a lot of the clients are judgment proof. That was another thing, which was only dealing with the side of them getting sued. Legal aid organizations don’t have to represent certain clients because they’re judgment proof. Other than that, I can’t really explain. Those are kind of the reasons I sometimes heard why people weren’t doing it.

Alan Houseman:
What motivated you get into this? The consumer. Talk a little bit about it.

Henry Sommer:
Well again, you know, I was seeing people losing their houses and so that was obviously a pretty important thing. This particular outfit that we first went after was the leading player at that time. No one was really doing anything about it. It just seemed like a need that was being unmet within CLS itself that nobody was really taking that on. It was certainly not the only thing I was doing. I was a generalist still. I was doing other things. But I took that on. I developed an expertise in that. Then when we started specializing I sort of gravitated to doing that. Eventually we were doing a combination of consumer and housing and foreclosure and utilities. We dealt with bankruptcy to deal with utility problems as well. We had at its peak probably well over 20 lawyers at CLS who were doing that kind of work. A lot of really great people. I don’t know if you’re interviewing any of the other ones. Irv Ackelsburg, is he coming in to see you?

Alan Houseman:
I’ve got to come back. I think you’re the eighth interview today.

Henry Sommer:
Yeah. No, I didn’t remember who you …

Alan Houseman:
I can come back and do it another day.

Henry Sommer:
Who you on your list but-

Alan Houseman:
I don’t have George on my list.

Henry Sommer:
George was a different aspect of housing. George did not get involved in that stuff except in dealing with community groups around foreclosure. But he didn’t do the day to day foreclosure cases. He was doing public housing and landlord.

Alan Houseman:
Right. I’ve got to come back and do some of the other people here.

Henry Sommer:
Right, right. Well there are a lot you could do. We’ve had a lot of great people come through over the years. I developed that expertise and had other people working with me on that and we just sort of became a juggernaut in dealing with those issues. Then of course it was really one thing just led to another. Then I wrote the article. The only thing I started besides developing that expertise, the only thing I consciously did to develop in a way was write that article. Then people were starting to come to ask me to do things. One thing just led to the next.

Alan Houseman:
Is that how you got into the Colliers?

Henry Sommer:
Yeah. I was initially, we being aggressive the way we were, they were writing local bankruptcy rules after the new bankruptcy law took effect. It happened one of the CLS board members, a law professor at Villanova, was involved in that. I said, we should be involved in that. He said okay. So I got working with him. He was involved with ALI-ABA. He decided we should put on a consumer bankruptcy program, which I think we did twice, once in South Carolina and another time in Memphis. When we did that I met a couple of the big mucky mucks in the bankruptcy world who are also doing ALI-ABA programs. They liked me, so they had me do some other programs with them. NYU had an annual bankruptcy workshop I did every year for about 20 years with all of the biggest names, Vern Countryman and all those sort of biggest names in bankruptcy. Larry King, who was the professor at NYU who ran the workshop, was the editor in chief of Collier. So then he asked me to do some writing in Collier when the person who had been writing some of the consumer stuff went from being a bankruptcy judge to a district judge. Really one thing just sort of led to another along the way. I took on more writing. I was probably more involved in it than some of the people who were writing for Collier who were like at big firms and would give it to their associates to do or something like that. They gave me more and more writing to do and eventually asked me to be co-editor in chief, after Larry King died.

Alan Houseman:
Fascinating. While we’re on the subject of bankruptcy. We’re tending into that for the moment. What happened in, was it 2005?

Henry Sommer:
Yeah.

Alan Houseman:
I know that there was a big problem in 2005. You had been trying to get various of us in DC who didn’t do any bankruptcy stuff –

Henry Sommer:
We got a big coalition of people involved. The creditors’ lobbyists, I guess as their raison d’etre, every five or ten years decided to mount an attack on the bankruptcy code. The first was actually in ’84. Well it started in ’80 almost right after the Bankruptcy Reform Act. It ended up with some amendments in ’84 which was the first time I testified. Senator Howard Metzenbaum was phenomenal in that and sort of limited the damage in that round. Then they started again in 1990 and again Howard Metzenbaum was amazing and we actually got some improvements by the time that thing passed in 1994. One of the things they got was this Bankruptcy Reform Commission, which Elizabeth Warren became the reporter of. The creditors wanted more, but the reform commission didn’t really give them what they wanted. So they said we’re just going to go to Congress.

Henry Sommer:
They did and they had this huge lobbying campaign. They had these so-called studies from the Credit Research Center. I always called it the Tobacco Institute of Consumer Law. In fact, I was asked to do this lecture at Hofstra which was turned into an article about the whole process by which the creditors lobbied and ginned up these studies and that whole thing. It turned out the lecture was on C-Span. I’d get my relatives calling me up. “I had insomnia at three in the morning and I saw you on C-Span giving this lecture.”

Henry Sommer:
That fight really began in ’97 and we held them off for eight years. It was mainly at that point, through the vehicle of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). But we hired a lobbyist. We developed a big coalition with labor, civil rights groups, women’s groups, and Elizabeth Warren became very prominent in that fight. It’s really where she cut her teeth in terms of becoming nationally known in that fight. She was a great spokesperson. We held them off. There were a lot of ups and downs along the way. We made the bill somewhat more moderate, but in 2005 they had a Republican House, a Republican Senate, a Republican president, and they just jammed it through at that point. Again, we made it somewhat better, but it was definitely a big loss in terms of making bankruptcy much less effective, much more expensive, much more burdensome for people to file.

Henry Sommer:
We tried. We rallied the consumer bankruptcy lawyers afterwards. That’s actually when NACBA, our group, hit its peak in terms of membership because we put on these training programs about how you could still practice bankruptcy law under this new law. We pointed out that since the whole law was written by lobbyists who absolutely refused to have any experts look at it, including even accredited lawyers, it had all these places where they’d written it poorly, where we were able to sometimes turn it around or keep it from doing what they really wanted it to do. We had like almost 3,000 bankruptcy lawyers come to those two training programs in 2006 and so that’s what happened. But it was a long, hard fight.

Henry Sommer:
Then we actually had another big legislative fight starting before the 2008 financial crisis or whatever you want to call it, the housing bubble bursting. Starting about 2007 we were in Congress saying, “There’s going to be a huge foreclosure crisis,” which was starting to happen already because of all the predatory mortgages. That was before the home values started going way down. We tried to get Congress to pass a law where a Chapter 13 bankruptcy debtors could modify their home mortgages, which would have helped a lot of people. The banks fought us. Obama endorsed the proposal when he was running for president. But then Treasury Secretary Geithner basically sabotaged our efforts when we got to Congress. We got it passed in the Democratic House. Senator Richard Durbin spearheaded it in the Senate. But basically Geithner kind of damned with faint praise and we didn’t get it passed.

Henry Sommer:
That was the first of several bad experiences we’ve had with the Obama Administration. We had that experience with Treasury and then with the HAMP program, which was pretty inadequate in terms of dealing with foreclosures. We had a really bad experience. In the last few years we tried to get the Education Department to be easier in terms of student loans in bankruptcy. You can discharge a student loan in bankruptcy if you can show undue hardship. They had hired this servicer that fought every case tooth and nail, no matter how meritorious the case was. We said, rein these people in. Here’s some sort of guidelines you can give them to say, this one, just agree to it if someone’s disabled, if someone’s below the poverty level and they’ve been below the poverty level their whole life, just agree to it. We hit a brick wall. The Education Department was just totally creditor oriented and had absolutely no interest in doing anything. We had a big problem with them.

Henry Sommer:
Of course with the Justice Department I also had some big problems. There’s an office that supervises bankruptcy trustees. It’s called the Executive Office of the United States Trustees. They left in the guy who had been running it under Bush. He’s still there. When the Republicans controlled Congress this guy was this totally anti-consumer really just pushing as much as he could to enforce this law in the most draconian way against consumers. As a skillful bureaucrat, he sort of moderated his tone when the Democrats got control of Congress. But we had these Democratic chairs of the Judiciary Committees in the House and the Senate telling Obama, when are you gonna replace this guy? The Obama Administration never did. We never figured out why, but he’s still there. We didn’t have great luck with the Justice Department either.

Henry Sommer:
We had our disappointments with the Obama Administration even in things that they could have done without any legislation, which is what we’ve been pushing lately. But we’ve been active. For a tiny group, we have a pretty active lobbying effort where we have very good relationships with the Democratic staffers in the House and the Senate, and a lot of the Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee. Senator Paul Wellstone was amazing when he was alive. He was ready to filibuster the bankruptcy bill. He died before it ultimately passed. Senator Russ Feingold was amazing. But one other thing I did that I feel pretty good about that would probably not have happened but for me was in ’98, really when the bankruptcy legislation was first being pushed, I got Senator Arlen Spectre (R-PA), with the help of some local bankruptcy lawyers here, and Senator Feingold to sponsor an amendment to allow In Forma Pauperis bankruptcy, which had never been allowed.

Henry Sommer:
The Supreme Court had ruled that bankruptcy is a privilege and not a right. Like every other court proceeding you had to pay a filing fee no matter how poor you were. They sponsored that amendment and got In Forma Pauperis bankruptcy into the bill in ’98. It stayed in the bill the whole time. It finally got passed in 2005, and was one of one or two good things in that whole bill. But that’s made a huge difference for our clients because the cost of the filing fees was like $335. We can get that waived for all our poor clients. That’s another thing I was involved in., Along the way in the different legislation there were other things that I was involved in. I don’t know if I should say this, but I was gonna say, I was very involved in drafting the house report in-

Alan Houseman:
You can say it.

Henry Sommer:
In 1994 for the 1994 legislation. I was sitting up in my home office with one of my colleagues and we were writing this thing out and they adopted a good portion of what we wrote. I think the bottom line, we were respected. People trusted us to be honest brokers and to be consumer advocates and it paid dividends over time. We had some great, still have some really good relations with people on the hill, Rep. John Conyers and his staff on the House Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Patrick Leahy, and some of the other people on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Alan Houseman:
Well, let’s go back to legal aid a little bit. Looking back on your long and great career, what would you say your major achievements were? We talked about some of them.

Henry Sommer:
I just feel really good. I mean our office was kind of unique. Our, what was called Law Center Northeast in Community Legal Services Parlance. They were different law centers which were the neighborhood offices. Starting in about 1979 or 1980 we did not have a so-called management person in our office. We had a union that started about 1977-78 which I was pretty involved in. Its main purpose was not so much to bargain about salary and things like that, but rather to give to staff who felt like they had no say in how the program was being run some leverage to influence how the program was being run. We’d had a couple of managers … [recording ends abruptly].


END