VP for programs at LSC from 1994 to 1998. Previously director of Southern Arizona Legal Aid. Expert on delivery of legal services to low income people.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Nov 10, 2016|
|Where relates to:||Arizona|
|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 John Tull
Conducted by Alan Houseman
November 10, 2016
Alan Houseman: This is an interview with John Tull, who is currently an independent consultant. As we are about to hear, he has done many other things in civil legal aid. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library. This interview was conducted on Thursday, November 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. John, let’s begin by just going over your history briefly, and then I’m going to come back and focus on various aspects of it. I want you to start with where you grew up, high school, college, law school, and then the jobs you’ve held.
John Tull: Okay. I grew up in Denver. Went to East Denver High School. Went from there to Williams College in Massachusetts. I left Williams College, got married the next week, and went into the Peace Corps in Bolivia, where I served for two years. I came back and went to Yale Law School. I came back in 1967, so was at Yale during those very turbulent years in America. I got a Reginald Heber Smith fellowship after that and went to Tucson, Arizona where I was at the then Legal Aid Society of Pima County Bar Association, which became Southern Arizona Legal Aid while I was there. I served as a lawyer there for four years. I became the Director in 1974 and served as Director until 1980. Then in 1980 I went back to Denver and I worked for the Legal Services Corporation as a regional counsel in the Denver regional office. I served there until mid ’84. I left and became a consultant because I started doing it while I was looking for work. I ended up liking it, so I stayed in it. I served as a consultant until 1994. In 1994, I was hired by the Legal Services Corporation as one of the senior staff when President Clinton appointed a new Board. I served as the Director of the Office of Program — I don’t remember the title but it was Program Support and Oversight, or something. I became Vice President in 1998. I left in 1998 and went back into consulting, and I’ve been consulting ever since and still am.
Alan Houseman: So, what factors, what influences, why did you become a Reggie and go to Tucson?
John Tull: Well, I found myself thinking about this in anticipation of this conversation. The specific law school experience which led me to go into legal services was working at the neighborhood New Haven Legal Assistance Association clinic on the hill, which was and is a center city African-American neighborhood with a significant Puerto Rican population. My wife happened to be a teacher there in the elementary school. That was really the best experience I had in law school, working in the clinic, which then made me decide I was going to apply for a Reggie.
John Tull: I found myself thinking about the question though. What got me interested in legal aid work and when did that begin? Because I grew up in a pretty conservative Republican family. My dad raised me and my brothers by himself. He was an attorney sole practitioner, a respected guy. But he was very Republican and not particularly open racially or in a variety of other ways. When I was in high school — and that was the beginning of the civil rights movement — I remember thinking that I was disappointed that the civil rights struggle was going to be over before I got through college and could participate. Sadly, not true. It’s not over.
John Tull: I was actually talking with a friend of mine who remembered that he and I used to go out and drink coffee together and eat peach pie when I was in high school. He said, “I remember when you and I were having coffee, and you said that you realized that poor people didn’t have lawyers, and you thought that was really an outrageous thing.” And I said, “Really, I don’t remember saying that.” And he said, “Yeah, that’s when I actually decided that I was going to be a Democrat and that was a turning point in my life.” So, something in my life made me aware of that earlier, times that I don’t even remember other than that anecdote from my friend.
Alan Houseman: Interesting. I’d like to return to your work at Southern Arizona Legal Aid. Besides describing it, if you wish, I’d like you to think about what accomplishments could you discuss from your work at Southern Arizona Legal Aid? You were a staff attorney and ultimately became the director. So, any way you want to talk about that work. In particular, what accomplishments you think you achieved there.
John Tull: Southern Arizona Legal Aid was originally called the Legal Aid Society of Pima County Bar Association, as I said at the beginning. It was a one-county program when I started, though it was a huge county, almost from California to New Mexico.
John Tull: We were very active on the street. It was the height of the Chicano movement, and there was a lot of political ferment going on. I spoke Spanish because of having been in the Peace Corps, and we were very involved with the community. I used to go to community meetings all the time. My wife was the Head Start teacher and later administrator. In the early years there, what I really think made a difference is we engaged in some really serious work trying to deal with closing of schools and the like, but doing it where it was really grounded in the community.
John Tull: At the same time we were doing serious legal work. As a staff lawyer I was one of two lawyers doing a rate hearing before the Public Utilities Commission. We succeeded in getting inverted rates, which was not done very often and was designed to make it easier for low income folks and older folks to be able to pay for their electrical bills.
John Tull: While I was Director, which was after about four years of that, we expanded into just about half of the state. We expanded into a very conservative area up to the Navajo nation, which is about halfway up the counties which border on Utah — a bunch of very conservative, very sparsely populated counties. First we did a successful meeting. We really learned to connect with and get the support of the local community and overcome the resistance, which is inherent, to “some long haired eastern educated lawyers coming in to mess with our counties” kind of attitude. We succeeded in overcoming that political and social viewpoint. We succeeded in becoming much embraced by the bar, by the judges, as well as by the communities. Probably those are the accomplishments that stand out in my mind.
Alan Houseman: While there are different timeframes here, I want to focus first on LSC, and then we’re going to go to your ABA work, and then we’re going to go to NLADA, and then we’re going to go to current work. But I want to go back to LSC. You’ve done a number of things at the Legal Services Corporation. So first, let’s talk about your work in as regional counsel and what kind of things you worked on. Then we’ll go to your positions at the Corporation itself. Then we’ll get into some of the things that I’m more familiar with what you did then. So, we’ll start with your regional counsel work.
John Tull: Well, I was hired because of having successfully overseen the expansion of what became Southern Arizona Legal Aid into some very sparsely populated, not particularly friendly counties. That was at the time when the Corporation had gotten a significant amount of new money to expand into counties and into states all over the southwest — Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, which we were a part of, New Mexico, et cetera. I was hired to help with that process, to help deal with the expansion in Texas mostly. That is where I worked, in east Texas and then in the Panhandle, and other places.
John Tull: So the first year and a half or two years was largely working with local bar associations, softening up their viewpoint, because it was very much like what I had experienced in Arizona. There was just a visceral reaction often from these folks that, “They’re going to come in and steal our business. They’re going to come and serve people up.” There’s this — I’m going to use the word kneejerk, and I don’t mean to demean anyone when saying that — but it’s a bit of a kneejerk reaction that came from just a fear of what this was going to mean. The important challenge and responsibility was to communicate that this is actually going to strengthen communities. Bringing more lawyers into a bar with only a few lawyers does not take away business. It creates business. Because the more lawyers you have, the more lawsuits you have. The more things are going on. So that anxiety that people had evaporated very quickly when offices would get opened up.
John Tull: So, I did that for about two years. Then the politics changed dramatically because we had the election not long after I came there where the Reagan Administration came in. The Administration and the Attorney General were both pretty hostile to legal aid. They appointed a new Board in 1982, and they had a much different view about the work that we were doing and had all experienced. So, it changed then. I don’t know if you want me to talk about the Associate Director piece —
Alan Houseman: Yeah, go ahead.
John Tull: At that particular time period — and I’m sure others have spoken about this in these oral histories — President Reagan appointed interim appointees to the LSC Board. They were looking to hire a president. They ended up having Clint Lyons, who was from the regional office, serve as the interim while they were searching. Bucky Askew was his Vice President, I guess. They just needed a lot of help because they were dealing with a lot of policy issues or a lot of questions and pushes from the Board, which had a very different view of what the role of LSC should be. So I went to D.C. I was still living in Denver, but I was flying back on many weekends. I served as just a support for the two of them, helping frame and suggest policy. I was not a policy or a decision maker, but I did a lot of work trying to help figure things out. Some of them were nuts and boltsy things, like can a program have a sliding fee scale for its clients, for instance. This happens to be one of the ones I remember. It was of no particular moment. I don’t remember even what the analysis was but I remember we talked about that.
John Tull: So, I did that for about a year, a year and a half, and then went back to the regional counsel role at LSC. Even before I moved to the Corporation, I had been a chair of a small working group of people who were working on developing standards. I continued to do that work while at LSC as an employee of the regional office and then as this handed-off employee in D.C. When we talk about that with my ABA work, I’ll go back to that. But it was about a four or five year process just thinking through what the content might be during that whole time period.
Alan Houseman: So then, in 1994 I guess it was, President Clinton comes in and a new board gets hired. You go back to LSC as head of the Office of Program Operations, I think it was called.
John Tull: Yeah, I think that’s right. Then we changed it to OPER, Office of Program Evaluation and Review, I think. We were into the catchy acronyms.
Alan Houseman: Right. I want to talk a little bit about some of the things that you did there. But first, what did that office do, and what were your responsibilities?
John Tull: Well, that office had been responsible for program oversight, meaning monitoring to assure compliance with the LSC Act and regs, oversight of the quality of work, evaluations of the way systems worked and our setup. When I first went there, which was ’94, we began to work on the notion of peer review. That came out of something which had preceded my going there when I was a consultant. Prior to going to LSC I’d worked with a group of people that the then leadership of LSC under the Reagan Board had called in to help with the, I think it was called, Comparative Demonstration Project. Am I remembering that correctly? It was a congressionally mandated study of the effect of competition on legal services. If you set up competitions between programs and we measured them against each other, would they do better if they were competing, as opposed to just getting a grant? The Corporation asked for help from some of us who had been around for a while and had been working with programs and they thought help to formulate that.
John Tull: The beginning was the current peer review process at LSC and used by many, many states. It was an effort to create a system whereby those programs who chose to compete would measure at the beginning of one year and then after two years, I think it was. Or maybe one. I don’t remember the exact timeframes. But at the end of a specific period of time, we then measured again. In the course of that, we began to develop a peer review process. When I went to LSC as the Director of Program Operations, one of the first things that I did was to say, “I think we should incorporate this into the way we oversee the quality of programs.” Because it really is a pretty thoughtfully designed system to look at what’s really happening. It gets away from any approach which would be simply, “How many numbers did you produce this month, and are they up to snuff with everyone else?”
John Tull: We never implemented it because what intervened then was the election of ’94 where there was a pretty cataclysmic change politically in Washington with the Contract for America, with one of its bullet points being for the LSC to be defunded. We’ll talk about that I’m sure, unless if you want to talk about it now. But that led then to an imposition of a host of the restrictions we now still live with.
Alan Houseman: On peer review, LSC ultimately produced a document, LSC performance criteria, which was part of that system as I recall.
John Tull: Correct. It grew out of that. The nexus between the then and the present — in terms of the sequence of the peer review and the standards that grew out of that and what are now the performance measures — was that those had been developed even before I went there, and I’d had a hand in that.
John Tull: But with the shifts that happened in ’96, one of the shifts was the requirement of competition for grants. Before that, if you had a grant, you knew you’d have it forever unless you were defunded for some defaultation or some serious violation or breach of the law. What Congress required in the legislation which happened at that time was that there be competition. So we developed the system for competition and I oversaw Karen Sargent and Kathleen Welch, who were the two people that designed that really from scratch. They did an amazing job of research into what other people had done. It’s still active. It hasn’t been changed radically over however many ever years that’s been. The way to measure if there was competition was to incorporate then the peer review system that had been developed. That then led to a much clearer codification of what the criteria would be. They were then later revised by LSC, but they really grew out of that work that had happened to make that transition.
John Tull: I want to say one thing about the peer review thing, because I think it’s an important thing to have as part of the history of this community. If I think of things I’m proud of that happened at various times on my watch, one is that the peer review standards and measures to this day are about quality and result. In fact, the measures have in them a section on results. The standards may not use the exact word results, but the performance measures reflect that. They do talk about the importance of systemic work, of work that makes a difference in our broader framework than just individual work. They do not have anything numerical. They don’t say you have to do a certain number of cases or you won’t be a good program. One thing that’s inadvertently, but I think unfortunately, slipped into some of the oversight of LSC in later years was to add in various reports a thing about where people fit against the national measure of cost per case and numbers. It was unfortunate when it happened. From my work as a consultant, which we’ll talk about later, I see it as having had a tremendously debilitating effect on the community because it makes people worry about numbers, as opposed to major results. Once that begins to seep into the culture of an institution, it’s very hard to eradicate and it’s very hard to address because the case, the work which often is the most important does not produce statistics. Maybe a single community economic development project that has a tremendous effect on our community might show up as one case. If you’re measuring numbers of cases or cost per case, then you get penalized for doing that work. So, I’m proud of the fact that we kept our eye on the ball in developing that, and I’m pleased that the performance measures still are written in terms of quality and results.
Alan Houseman: You inherited a monitoring system. What did you do with that?
John Tull: I fought tooth and nail with the Inspector General about whether it was adequate or not. If we’re going to talk about LSC history, I think the effort over the years of the Inspector General to wrest away the monitoring system from the management has been a part of that history, and it goes on to this day probably. I’m not in that circle particularly. I have honestly a less clear memory of particular policy things then, other than we knew that we had to take seriously the oversight of the compliance with the regulations.
John Tull: I think we all had learned a lesson that Congress pays very close attention. There are people in Congress who have serious misgivings about the propriety of spending federal money on lawyers for poor people for a variety of reasons. So were very watchful of the degree to which the Corporation took seriously its responsibility. I came from the history I’ve already described so I didn’t come in with a whole lot of credibility for anyone. They didn’t know me from Adam, probably, but I certainly wasn’t somebody they saw as a cop. So, I probably inherited a cycle of monitoring efforts.
Alan Houseman: You mentioned that in 1996 Congress imposed a set of new restrictions on legal services programs, and that led to —
John Tull: You and I living together for three months (laughter)!
Alan Houseman: Talk about the regulatory process and the impact of that.
John Tull: Well, it was obviously a very significant time. Two features made it so significant. One was that, prior to ’96 the restrictions that had been imposed by the Act and by regulations were restrictions on the use of LSC funds. In the monitoring, a huge amount of LSC’s oversight responsibility, a huge amount of the dialogue that went on around the program, was what programs were engaged in. If there was a complaint around a program, the question centered around whether LSC funds were used or non-LSC funds. Then in ’96, Congress in the appropriation riders created what we’ve come to call entity restrictions. That is, if you receive LSC money, most of the restrictions prohibit a recipient as an organization from engaging in any of the prohibited activities, as opposed to using LSC funds for those activities.
John Tull: Now there’s those of us who have been down in the weeds. There are some restrictions from the Act that were not in the rider, so their effect is slightly different. But they’re very small. For the most part, it was the case that the restrictions were going to have a very serious impact on what programs did, and there were many new ones. There were restrictions on class actions, restrictions on representation of prisoners, a whole host of bureaucratic requirements. These probably served little purpose honestly beyond theoretically creating a record whereby Congress could look into what’s going on. There was a requirement that the plaintiffs of a lawsuit have a written statement and that there be notice. I don’t remember the content anymore. It’s been a long time since Alan and I and Linda Perle swam around in these to the depth that we did.
John Tull: But we made a decision. So, we had two things happening simultaneously. One, we had to create a system for competition. Two, we had to address the fact that now we were looking at all of the monies that a Legal Services Corporation recipient had. We had a whole host of new things to look at. We had a very dubious, even hostile Congress looking over our shoulder. The agreement that was reached to create the appropriations which saved us from extinction was something people took seriously. So we made a decision. I remember the meeting that we had at LSC talking about how we were going to draft a set of regulations. First of all, we had to revise a number of restrictions which were in place already. Class actions had a regulation, but it was very different because it was under the old non-entity rules. I remember we were in a meeting and we decided that we needed to do this very carefully and thoughtfully. We needed to be true to the intent of Congress while not going overboard and not going any further than they forced us to.
John Tull: We looked at how long it would take to do each regulation given the requirements under the various federal rules regarding notice and publication of rules and regulations. We had started out thinking, well, we’ll do them in clumps. We’ll do a couple this round, and then we’ll do another round, and another round, and another. And there were so many restrictions. We realized it was going to be almost three years before we got done. We recognized that we couldn’t do that. That was not going to be a satisfactory to the Congress. It would certainly just leave programs worried and up in the air as to what they should do with these new restrictions, which they knew about and which they were still bound by, whether there was a regulation or not. It was federal law.
John Tull: So we made a decision that we were going to do them pretty much all at once. We might’ve done them in two clumps. At that time Alan Houseman [the interviewer] and Linda Perle at CLASP, the Center on Law and Social Policy, had long been the counsel to the legal services community around the restrictions. We recognized that we needed to draw on their expertise, but to do it independently as well. There would be questions if this looked like it were something that the legal aid programs’ lawyer had somehow tricked us into passing, in case any such claims would ever be made. So we took very seriously the drafting of the regulations and thinking them through. Our general counsel had one lawyer who was assigned to this, Suzanne … What was Suzanne’s last name?
Alan Houseman: Glasow.
John Tull: Glasow, who has since passed. A very smart, very dedicated and very serious lawyer. She and I worked long hours just talking about content and then we’d meet and kick things around with others in the community, including Alan and Linda. Then we would go to have hearings before the Board. The Chair of the Board committee was LaVeeda Battle, who is another just wonderfully brilliant, thoughtful, engaged, serious lawyer. We would meet with her and she would be just on it like a good lawyer is, asking what does this mean and why? But she came from a place of really wanting to have restrictions which satisfy Congress’s intent, but did not go any further than they needed to. Of course, Bill McCalpin was on the Board, and Bill was very serious about things as well. I still see my name on memos and sometimes it makes you grin.
Alan Houseman: One other aspect that happened while you were there was State planning. Describe what that was about and what LSC was trying to do.
John Tull: In 1996, before the restrictions and the competitive bidding requirement was passed by Congress, what we thought might happen was that LSC would be defunded entirely. I think it was a Point in the Contract with America to just simply abolish the Legal Service Corporation. So we knew that there was a significant chance that we would not survive as an institution and felt significant responsibility to help states prepare for that. We knew at least there would be significant cuts. We knew that there were states where there was pretty good support from the local bar, there was some local money and there was a variety of things where people would be able to survive. But there were many states where that did not begin to happen. There was support from the courts typically, but not necessarily a very formal, or well established support from the bar association. The state bar was generally supportive in most states, but occasionally in a few states a little bit of an annoyance to programs in how the the bar association viewed legal aid.
John Tull: But there was not the kind of connection among those institutions that there would need to be in order to survive the onslaught. There were also a lot of states that had a number of one-county programs. Some of these were weak, and some were struggling, because they were very small. They had limited money. They didn’t really have a chance to get into the mainstream of things that were happening. So, we called for state planning, and said that it should address the relationships that should exist to survive. The belief was then, and I think this has totally been borne out in history, that however conservative a Supreme Court might be, however conservative the bench might be, however conservative the bar might be in a particular state, they have an interest in a strong legal aid program, because they rely on it. The courts rely on it, and that natural partnership is something that needs to be cultivated. I think that has been borne out. There are very conservative states with very conservative courts where they have unbelievable support from the bar association.
John Tull: It caused a little bit of a flurry and a flap as you might think with some of the one-county programs. It was certainly not anyone’s belief that every small program was not a good program. That wouldn’t empirically have been true. But we did think that — if there was a 25%, 50%, 75% cut in funding — a one-county program with say a budget of $150,000 or $200,000, which some of them probably were at that time, wouldn’t be able to survive as an organization. Therefore we should really push people in the states to say we need to begin merging and we need to get people to connect together so that we have a larger aggregate of funds available if and when the cuts come. Not surprisingly, there were places where that was mightily resisted and criticized as being inherently disrespectful of smaller programs. There were reasons those programs were there. They typically had strong local political support. They were accustomed to not being nudged the way they were. But there were some changes which happened. A number of programs did get together and said, “We need to think about this.” A lot of the stronger programs today came out of that planning, people sitting down together and really thinking seriously about how should they be configured and what makes sense, particularly in the light of the pretty significant political threat and challenge that people faced.
John Tull: State planning changed, too. When I was Vice President, state planning became a much more aggressive blueprint on the part of the President of LSC. Not just that there should be a certain size of programs, but a real belief in a blueprint and model of one program per State, unless it could be proven otherwise. I wasn’t Vice President long. I didn’t stay very long during this time period. But there was definitely a different, much more aggressive tone of, “We’re going to make you do it because we’re going to make a decision if you all don’t work it out. We’ll make our own decision and push you to do it.” Again, the result of that was there were some good programs born out of that. There are some larger statewide programs that were forced to come into existence over a lot of resistance. In retrospect, I think they are probably some of the better programs in the country. Though size does not mean good, and small does not mean bad. We also know that leadership matters.
Alan Houseman: Is there anything else that you want to tell us that I haven’t covered of your role at LSC Office Program Operations and then Vice President of the Programs? Is there anything that we’ve left out that’s important here?
John Tull: It’s a learning that I picked up at LSC and I think it’s been lost in the history honestly. It’s maybe worthwhile to note it, at least in this conversation. The term “bureaucrat” is a term of opprobrium more often than not in our culture. Often the folks who work at LSC are thought of as the bean counters that are a pain in the neck, that cause trouble, and blah, blah, blah. But what I learned when I was there as Vice President and before becoming Vice President, particularly, was the importance in government of having bureaucrats, having people who have a sense of the mission of the organization which transcends a particular political regime. You see it in the Justice Department all the time. The Justice Department lawyers are committed lawyers. They’re there. They have a commitment to the Justice Department’s responsibilities in the world for civil rights or enforcement of various laws. You go through Attorneys General that are appointed by Republicans and by Democrats, but these bureaucrats still hold a vision of what their responsibility is. They’re the people who become the conscience, and the rudder, and the depth of the organization.
John Tull: I learned at LSC from some of the folks that were holdovers from the Reagan era, for whom we had a lot of respect. We went though a process of letting a number of people go whom we thought were politically motivated because they did not have the mission of LSC at all in mind. We let a bunch go, and we took a lot of heat for it and a lot of lumps in Congress. But it was the right choice. No question about that in spite of the personal opprobrium that was heaped upon some of us by some Congress people. But I learned from the folks that stayed over. In fact a friend of mine, who was there for a long time even after I left, had grown up in Honduras and had gone through lots of political upheaval there. He very much got it that it’s very important to have government stability that transcends the political changes.
John Tull: That’s what LSC had not really understood and developed yet. There was no professional core. The decision was made by the Corporation Board at a time they could have confirmed that, and hired a president who understood that and helped create a real professional class at LSC that would’ve been utterly committed to its core responsibilities in a deep and profound way, but would transcend new presidents coming and going. That didn’t happen. LSC still to this day suffers a bit from not being grounded as much as it could be. It’s a little more susceptible of change based on new presidents coming and going. It’s too small an organization not to have that. The Department of Justice is massive with thousands of people. LSC has a couple of hundred at best. So, it’s understandable. Maybe it could never happen, but I think that was a loss.
Alan Houseman: Interesting. Now I want to focus on your American Bar Association work. And let’s start with the two times that you did civil standards. So, talk a little bit about the first set of standards and the second set of standards. What they are, what they tried to accomplish, and what your role was and all of that.
John Tull: Well, the first set had a much more colorful history than the second set. The first set were actually published in 1981. These were not the ABA ones, but the ones from which the ABA standards grew. They were actually published in 1981, and there’d been at least a two-year, or maybe a three-year period of a bunch of very smart people from the community — Alan Houseman, Denny Ray and Bernie Veney, a whole bunch of folks — who sat around the table and earnestly thought about what should be the standards that guide us.
John Tull: For me, personally, I had an interest in that. When I was at Southern Arizona Legal Aid, we were a very active, engaged program. We were doing Supreme Court work and we were doing on-the- ground community work, and pretty successfully. But it was chaos. There were no particular management systems. There were no supervisory systems. So I came out of that experience with a strong sense that, if we’re really going to thrive as a community, we’ve got to have a clearer sense of what expectations are around things like supervision and hiring and training and all those sorts of things.
John Tull: For the first set of standards, at the very first meeting we sat around a room and I was facilitating the conversation. The first question I asked was, “I think what we should do is start by all of us sitting here and talking about all the weaknesses we know exist in our system. Make a list.” And we spent probably a two hour meeting where that’s what we did. Those became the framework for where we needed to focus. If we’ve got things which just aren’t clear, what should clarity be? We made a decision, I think an important decision, which holds. The defender standards had been very much numerical about the number of cases per lawyer, about the number of staff, staff structure and that sort of thing. We made a decision that we were not going to go down that road. Not because it was a bad road, but we just didn’t. The road we decided to go down was one of, what are the systems that should be in place and what are the outcomes they should accomplish? What should they do if they’re successful? So, having made this list of weaknesses in programs, we thought it would be important and helpful to begin to codify what best practice should be. The standards were written in the framework of what should the intake system accomplish? What should its values be? What should the experience of people who are affected by it be, as opposed to how many people should’ve been handled in a particular day. So the standards were written that way. There are some downsides to that. You don’t have numbers. The defenders’ standards have probably been successful in getting their money, because they do talk about how many lawyers you have to have. We don’t have a framework for that.
John Tull: So, the standards were written, but they were an interesting document that had been written by a bunch of program people. Then I did some work on them when I was at the Denver regional office. But they ended up basically just becoming an interesting document. Comes then the election of 1980. Comes then the very hostile environment on the part of LSC to our programs. Comes now the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants with Bill McCalpin as the Chair. I think what Bill thought — and he talked to probably Alan and others — but I think what the people who revived the standards recognized was that there was a core question. It’s a core question about the survival of legal aid and the attack on the work that it was doing. That is, if legal aid work is designed to make a difference in the lives of poor folks, in communities, in practices that affect them, then that needed to be codified. Because the attack that was coming from the federal government at this point was one of questioning the wisdom of money ever being spent for such things, and challenging programs for being involved in that kind of work. So the judgment was that the ABA should stand up here. We had this set of standards that were developed back when. We should pick them up and do something with them.
John Tull: The standards went through a very significant change because they had been a much more political document when written in the first round because they just were. They came from a project director and former project, including me, who had been very involved in very activist legal aid organizations, involved politically in a small “p” way, very attentive to local community politics and engaged in trying to make change. So, they reflected that. And there was some sensitivity about that. First of all, is it proper? And second, as a political fact. So, the standards went through a couple of years of serious hard work. I was the reporter, because I’d been the person who facilitated the first things and had written the first draft. When I say written, it was many people’s work, but I was the person who put pen to paper based on those discussions. They were adopted by the ABA in 1986. I think it was a good and strong statement that really put the ABA down as supporting in a institutional way the work that is core to legal aid.
John Tull: One of the interesting things about it, since this is an oral history and there are probably little artifacts of history that some folks might not know because they weren’t just there, is this. There was a very strong belief on the part of the ABA that you could not write standards related to practice. You couldn’t write a standard that said, “This is how a lawsuit should be conducted. This is how trial preparation should happen. This is how depositions should be handled.” I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this. It was just a very strong feeling that it was not something we could or should do. Well, one of the things that we had decided in this iteration of the history of the standards was that a lot of guidance would be needed for this. You’ve got a lot of young lawyers who have never tried a lawsuit. Because there’s legal aid, they suddenly got a complicated lawsuit case that they’re handling. So we set out to do it. One of the persons on SCLAID was a federal trial lawyer who was dubious about it because he shared the view that such standards could not be written. But he said, “You know what? We’ve got to do this right.” So he took that section and really worked it and said, “I think we can do this. I think it’ll be something that will be useful, not just for legal aid lawyers, but as a standard for how you should deal with the evolution of a lawsuit.” So one whole section was a step-by-step in the formation and pursuit of a lawsuit. They said it couldn’t be done, but we did it.
Alan Houseman: So, what happened 20 years later?
John Tull: 20 years later the world had changed. First of all, as happens with standards, I don’t think they changed many lives. I’m proud of the work that went into them by a lot of people, and proud of my contribution. But they’re like many such things. They stood on lots of shelves in various places and then people would pull them out for various purposes. I’m not going to say they were useless, because people could use them to ward off an attack for a certain kind of thing, or people have adopted them for standards for how they operated their own programs. So, they certainly had some value. But time passed and we ended up with technology changing the work that’s done. We ended up with a legal practice world — not just legal aid practice, but the practice of law and the way courts were functioning — which was much more aware of and attentive to and feeling responsibility for high volume limited representation. A lot more unbundling that happens is a formal process. There were hotlines that had evolved that we’re not doing full representation. People were having websites that would walk people through creating a pleading and going to court with it. And the standards didn’t touch that. That wasn’t in their horizon when we adopted them and when we wrote them. So there was a recognition that they just were out of date. Not that they were wrong, but they just didn’t cover enough. So, Bill Whitehurst was the chair of SCLAID. He was the President of Texas Bar Association and a wonderful guy.
Alan Houseman: We have an oral history of Bill.
John Tull: I’m sure you do. Rightly so. But he was a driver. He wanted them done in a year. I, because I’d been the reporter, and the others agreed to do them. It was a massive effort. Again, they were done with a huge amount of input. We had a committee of people. Sarah Singleton chaired it. She’s a judge in New Mexico now. I don’t know if she was ever chair of SCLAID but she was on SCLAID. She’s just a very solid, caring, smart, aggressive person in a positive way. By aggressive, I mean a no-nonsense person. So she chaired this committee. We had judges. We had one or two Supreme Court justices on it from different states. We had legal aid lawyers. We had ABA folks. We had technology folks we brought in. We had two and three hour conversations every two weeks or every three weeks in the course of a year on things that I had drafted to try to incorporate the changes that had happened, and also to look back on the things which were still current but we just wanted to clean them up or make them clearer. We got help from Linda Perle at CLASP because it was just too massive an amount of work and drafting to do in the period of time. In the midst of it, I broke a thigh skiing and I was on crutches. It seems to be a habit of mine.
John Tull: Back in 2006 they were adopted by the ABA. What they added, I think from the learning of having worked on them, is the recognition of the interface between limited practice and full representation. I’m going to talk about them in a minute, Alan, because I know it’s on your list. But it’s not just our work, but it’s how our work fits in, the way courts deal with the pressures on them, the way law practice happens in this much more varied array of actual help that people get. Some of the help is just a pamphlet of guidance. Some of it is strong support from a website. Some of it is clinics where you walk through what to do. Some is in-court information, like in Los Angeles where they serve 40,000 people a year — probably more than that, it’s probably 60,000.
John Tull: So, the interface and the interconnection between those and full representation and how you allocate those various potential responses to people’s needs properly and effectively and well, so people get the right level of help. Ideally, everyone would have a full lawyer full time who can do whatever they want. But that’s just not reality. It’s not going to ever happen. We have some experience in limited representation for middle class and poor people, but not for rich people. What I really learned from the standards was really, really digging into that, what that means, how those fit together, and what the essential components of limited representation are that meet the core professional responsibility of a lawyer.
Alan Houseman: One other set of ABA work I think you worked on, was some monitoring standards.
John Tull: I did, I did. Another footnote in history of little moment. But yes I was the author of of that. I’d love to hear how one ever used the monitoring standards. It would be wonderful to hear. The monitoring standards grew out of the fact that throughout the ’80s, monitoring by LSC had become — and maybe this is the change you’re talking about — monitoring at LSC had been a hostile venture. It was aimed, certainly the early years, at punishing and bludgeoning programs. The LSC hired people who brought an attitude of looking for the slightest error in anything. That was a serious concern. I did some work as a consultant helping people get ready for monitoring visits. Four or five of us formed a thing called the Quality Consortium. We would help people get ready for monitoring.
John Tull: So, as 1980 unfolded and actually as that intensity began to wind down frankly, because I think the hostile LSC realized it wasn’t really doing much but spending a lot of resources and starting a lot of bonfires. But the judgment was made that we should have a set of standards about what monitoring should be, and what’s proper, what’s not proper, what things you can ask about, what things you can’t ask about. Because I’d been the reporter to other standards and I’d done a lot of monitoring for LSC when I worked there, and had helped programs prepare, I ended up being the person asked to be the reporter. Again, I was working with a group of people who pulled it together in very short order. It was not nearly as lengthy a process as the full civil standards. But they were adopted in 1991. The fire had gone out of LSC’s efforts to use monitoring as a punishment, and so there was just not as much heat. I’m sure people probably find them helpful for some things. For example, is it proper for a funder to ask for confidential information. The standards speak to the parameters of that. There’s good stuff in them. I think they were thoughtful. But they were about five years too late. They would’ve been very useful in the mid ’80s. They weren’t so useful in 1990.
Alan Houseman: Have you done work with any of the national organizations? NLADA, PAG, MIE?
John Tull: I have.
Alan Houseman: And just describe briefly what some of that work has been.
John Tull: Well, I’ll call my notes up, because I had to think about this when I saw it on your question list, Alan. I did some planning work with all three organizations at various times as a consultant. I did some work for MIE, and for PAG, the Project Advisory Group, helping think through a potential system for providing technical assistance to programs. We called it PALS, Program … What’s that stand for? Program … I don’t know. A listers. I don’t know what it is. Something.
John Tull: It never manifested. But I think it was actually a great idea. It was just this concept of getting all the expertise that exists in our community and trying to put it together in a much more accessible way in terms of people saying, “Yes, I’ll be willing to help,” and show a better program and help them design their case management system or talk about intake or hiring, whatever it is. So somebody who was wrestling with that could go to a place and do a little search and find four or five people who are on the hook and read about their program and say, “Wow, this looks perfect for us.” It just didn’t happen. It was one of those good ideas. Our community and the world is quite filled with good ideas. It never manifested, but that was one that I did.
John Tull: The two big themes that came out of the work with those three organizations that I do think made a difference, and I think are still part of our conversation are one, program-owned evaluation. The notion of monitoring and evaluation, because of the history of LSC being a hostile force with it in the 1980s, had become something highly resisted by, or viewed as a root canal by, programs. This was true even of a monitoring or evaluation visit that was friendly and from a funder which cared and wanted to make things work. So the whole notion of evaluation left a bad taste in people’s mouth. A number of us began to feel like this is a good management. It involves evaluation, and it involves paying attention to what you’re doing and seriously paying attention to whether you’re accomplishing what you set out to accomplish. Sometimes it’s a very helpful thing to have somebody from outside come in and do it. So a program owned evaluation would be one where you’d say, “We want to test out totally for our own purposes, in terms of good management, whether we’ve succeeded.” I think honestly it’s also useful — this is not what I was thinking of as a value, but I think it does have a value also — for purposes of funding. Because you end up getting really important stuff. They will say, “This is the way we made a difference. This is how our employment work got people employed.” So I think a fair amount of work was done on that by a number of people, including me. It’s still part of the woodwork. It hasn’t taken hold everywhere, but I think people more and more do recognize that that’s an important part of a good management and good programming.
John Tull: The other theme which grew out of that is outcome measures. Again, it’s another thing that’s got this negative connotation, negative impact in terms of how people think about it. But for me, outcome measures are not about being able to tell some funder somewhere that the things that they wanted you to produce, you did produce, which is usually the way they feel. But for me, outcome measures have to do with being clear about what you’re intending to do, what you’re objectives are, and having those be realistic and manageable. You need goals and objectives that you can measure and say, “Did we do it?” Again, I think of that as an aspect of good management. It’s an aspect of becoming better. It’s certainly an aspect of better use of resources because, if you’re intentional about what are the outcomes you want, you don’t spend resources doing something that’s not going to work. If it’s an advice clinic that just doesn’t get people advice they can use because it’s too complicated, you need to know that. It’s not because advice clinics are wrong. It’s because there may be some aspects of the law that are just too much. You need to test it and find out. If we tell people how to go off and represent themselves in a landlord tenant hearing, we need to know if they can do it. And if they don’t, we shouldn’t spend money on it. It’s a waste of time. Or else, we should figure out what they need to make it work.
John Tull: Outcome measure is still an ongoing struggle. I think United Way over the years has had their outcome measures that they put people through, and so it’s still something people tend to react to with a pit in their stomach tightening up. But I think the better managers, better programs are ones that are very clear about what they’re trying to accomplish. A lot of the work I do frankly as a consultant now is trying to help people think that way.
Alan Houseman: Well, let’s move to your consulting work. So, you’ve worked with a lot of programs, and I certainly want you to talk a little bit about that if you want. You’ve also worked with a number of other kinds of things — access to justice commissions, courts, statewide pro bono systems. We’ve done a little international legal aid work together.
John Tull: We have. I have. Some of my favorite things.
Alan Houseman: Technology projects. You’ve done a lot of consulting. I don’t want to spend hours going over everything. But in your view, in this array of consulting that you’ve done, what are the important pieces of it and how do you think you’ve made a difference?
John Tull: Well, that’s one of the hard things about consulting. You often don’t know if you did make a difference. Because you’re not there the next year. So I would say some of the differences, I don’t know whether I’ve made or not. I hope I have. Every now and then someone comes up to me and says, “You know, remember back when and boy, we did something with that and made a difference for ourselves.”
John Tull: I’ve done a range of work. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work with access to justice commissions, with access to justice boards, and with statewide efforts to do what I think state planning started. That is, to seriously create a community across the state that has the courts, has the Supreme Court, has a state bar, has local bar leaders, has legal aid programs, has connected social service organizations, the domestic violence community in shelters, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera … That they have a common sense of purpose on what they’re going to try to do. I’ve done a fair amount of work with that in New Hampshire, Montana, Washington State, Louisiana, and Colorado. It’s worked as a continuation of the planning, which does make a difference, and I think it’s going to make a difference in whatever’s to come now. We’re all sitting in this room very uncertain about what’s going to happen in the next few years.
John Tull: I’ve done a fair amount of work with state planning, which is like access to justice stuff, but a little different. It tends to be focused more on how the providers interface with each other and divide up their work. I’m sitting down doing a list, thinking about this in North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington State, New Jersey, South Carolina, Louisiana, the Los Angeles area, Vermont, Maine, Hawaii. I forgot Ohio. I did a lot of work in Ohio. I’ve tried to be helpful in helping people sort out how they organize their work, how people organize their work. Probably I made a difference in some places because it’s just helpful to have somebody who has an institutional sense and cares about the work and who is grounded in the values come and help sort out some of the political challenges of multiple organizations with different histories and different interests.
John Tull: The international work in Karelia, Russia that I’ve gotten to do with you, Alan — who knows what’s happened. They’ve gone through what they’ve gone through. I’m sure Alan knows. I don’t. But I think it had huge potential and made a lot of difference for poor people in a legal system that is moving into even beginning to have laws about ownership for property and to have people who are paying attention to what that means.
John Tull: Then, I’ve worked in technology. I’m not a tech guy. I’m a techophile. I love to pay attention to what’s available to make things work better. I’m not afraid of technology, as many people in my generation are. I think I brought something to that. When I left LSC I facilitated a technology conference that brought together some of the smarter, wiser people in our community around technology in 1998. So, this was early in the evolution of what we now have. It included people from foundations, Rockefeller and others that were funding technology, and the National Center for State Courts, a few organizations like that. We spent two days and talked about what the future of service to low income folks using technology might look like. I look back on it and it’s amazing because one of the things that came out of that — and I wrote this big paper that tried to draw together what everybody had talked about — one of the things that we said then, in 1998, is, computers of the future are going to be a size of a cell phone. They’re going to be something you have in your pocket. We should have ways for people to get information like that, and to be able to know where to go for help, to get guidance about a particular thing, to seek services.
John Tull: And in fact, that’s what’s happening in a lot of places. I just evaluated a TIG grant, a Technology Initiative Grant, in New Mexico. It’s a system for triaging people, getting people based on some questions they answer to the right services, and with the right information, passed on to the agency or the organization of the legal aid firm that they’re sent to. They’ve got it available as a mobile app. So, I look back and I think, “We’ve just got some people in our community who are really at the cutting edge of thinking ahead. We’re way behind Morrison & Foerster and those big firms, how they use technology. But we’re pretty far along in terms of really understanding ways technology can facilitate folks coming in. I’ve done a number of evaluations of TIG grants. I helped MIE develop a system for evaluating technology that was from a TIG grant, but set out again, what are your objectives? How do you measure success? It’s probably something a little bit like the monitoring standards that probably didn’t make the kind of splash it might have, but I think it was really good stuff and it still moved things.
Alan Houseman: I’m about to move on to the final issue. Is there anything else in your consulting work that we haven’t mentioned that we should’ve? You’ve helped a lot of programs. We’ve done a lot of work together, for example. We covered some of the high points of it. I want to make sure we don’t leave something out.
John Tull: I worked 28 years as a consultant out of 46. I’ve worked with maybe 300 programs. I did count once the ones I evaluated and it was somewhere up there. So, it’s a lot. What I’ve tried to bring to all of that work, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, is a sensitivity to the difficulty of the work that is done with limited resources, massive numbers of clients, horrendous problems, including choosing what to do. There is sometimes a lot of political heat and struggle, sometimes tough relations around unions. Sometimes you are dealing with very complex programs because of racial diversity and gender diversity and age diversity and sexual orientation diversity, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a very complex world. What I hope I brought is helping programs that are struggling with that to understand institutional dynamics and how to make things work while not losing track of the core values of being attentive to what real client need is, and organizing themselves to be able to respond to it and being serious about that. In some programs I’ve been successful in helping folks sort through that. I don’t mention any names, because it wouldn’t be proper. But I can think of some programs that I look at now and think, when I first worked with that program, it was a real troubled place. I can think of one where I did some work — sometimes for the funder, sometimes hired by the same program, because they wanted me to follow up over a 20 year period — and it’s a program that now is one of the really better programs in the country. It is doing really solid work, is engaged in the community around some issues which are new and different and challenging. I certainly don’t take credit for it, but I do feel like I had a role to play and key times I have helped people through a dilemma or challenge. So, I’d say that’s probably the other piece. (laughing) I take credit for everything that’s good that’s happened in the last 28 years. I really had a hand in it! (laughing)
Alan Houseman: Well, you should. Now, let’s talk about the future of civil legal aid and access to justice. We live in a world where we had a renewed interest by state Supreme Courts, and other courts, partly driven by a large number of unrepresented litigants before them. We have technology developments going on. We have interest in what’s called unbundling, which we’ve talked about in other oral histories here. We have interests in pro bono, historically. All this stuff that’s going on around us. And my question, and you can handle it any way you want, is what would you like to see as the future of civil legal aid in this broader access to justice movement? How do you envision civil legal aid in the future? Where would you like to see it go? What is your view of what it should do and how does it fit into this broad access to justice movement that exists around us?
John Tull: What I would like to see is probably a different question than what I think will be possible, given the resources. So, let me answer the second one, because I know what I would like to see is unlikely to happen anytime soon. I see different components, but they are somewhat related. One component is just the political component. It’s the capacity of the right kind of advocacy to survive and be welcomed and understood by the powers that have tended over the years to attack, because they feel it’s threatening to them, such as lawsuits that overturn what banks do and overturn welfare decisions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We have come a long way. An important part of the future is to have an understanding that that is a legitimate, appropriate and necessary part of a healthy society, to have that capacity. Even for people who have a financial interest or a legal interest which is affected by that, it’s a valuable thing for culture in a state to recognize that this is a part of what we want. We’re not going to be a healthy community, a healthy society, if we don’t have people who are able to pursue their grievances. So, on a political acceptance level, that’s certainly one that I think’s important, and I think it’s happened in a lot of places. We’ll find out. Certainly most of us right now, this particular day, literally are worried about whether that’s up for grabs again. Alan knows better than anybody and I’ve been through four or five of these cycles. We just don’t know what that will mean.
John Tull: But I think the other component, which is a little more mundane and down in the weeds, is what you said, Alan. We’ve gone through a period of things evolving — unbundling, web capacity to legal information, court clinics that provide legal information, hotlines, advice lines, advice clinics, pro bono, and private attorneys engaged in a variety of ways. We’ve had a tendency sometimes in our community to think of these as competing ways of providing help. We sometimes think that the folks who really want to have good, solid, efficient, and effective ways of getting legal information to people are seen as somehow competing for dollars with and undermining the value of having a lawyer representing someone with full representation. I think it’s just unfortunate, and wrong headed. What we really need to have is an understanding of how all of those various resources should fit together, ideally in a way where people can get quickly to the help they need, and not have to jump through a trillion hoops, or try a bunch of doors that are locked, until they finally open one that’s the right one. Or never open it, because they can’t find it. So, people need a way to get into the system and to have the system be able in a meaningful and intelligent way to get people to the right source of help as quickly as possible. The right source of help in many cases may be a full lawyer to represent them. In other cases that just may not be possible, as I said a minute ago. Full representation would be ideal for everybody, but we don’t live in that world. Courts don’t live in that world. Nobody lives in that world. It’s not just poor folk.
John Tull: We need a way to make sure that, if somebody can get help through legal information and through self help, they get that. But a component of that is measurements, is outcomes. You need do know if that works. I think that’s one of the fights over it. People can’t really answer the question whether, if you help someone draft a pleading and file it in a court electronically, that makes any difference in the problem they have. If it doesn’t make any difference, then it’s not the right kind of help, however, nifty and cool it is in terms of bells and whistles. But if you can measure it, and it does make a difference, then it’s the right resources to use. Because you’ve got to save the resources you have for full representation for the people who truly, absolutely need it, and there’s plenty of those. So, to have a system which has a capacity to do that is the next challenge. We’re working on it. We’re about to work on it in Colorado. I just found out we just got one of the Justice for All grants, and that’s really the concept that I just described. So, that’s a key piece.
John Tull: To make that happen, we need to learn to talk with each other better. The folks who are full representation aficionados and those who are legal information aficionados, and those who are hotline aficionados, et cetera, need to really have a capacity to recognize that everybody is really a part of a system that has a role to play that’s important. The thing that needs to happen is that the right people play the right roles for the right people who have need. We’ve got work to do to accomplish that.
Alan Houseman: Okay. Anything else that we’ve left out that you want to add.
John Tull: Actually, this goes way back to the beginning — I just want to say this because I’m a little proud of it — that is, back to Southern Arizona Legal Aid. Southern Arizona Legal Aid was one of the three programs in the country which took seriously domestic violence and took it on as a major problem. A couple of people in Brooklyn were doing it, and there was someone else in another part of the country. We had a paralegal whose husband was a rapist and had abused her terribly. She held our feet to the fire. This is back in the days when most of the leaders in legal aid were white men and didn’t get it. She pushed and pushed and pushed and said, “This is THE problem in our community.” This is before domestic violence shelters. This is back when the struggle was just getting police to even show up at a domestic violence call. We took that on and had a really solid project. I meant to mention that earlier, because it makes me proud of the program I was a part of. We paid attention. So, nothing lofty, but I think it was important.
Alan Houseman: Great. Well, thank you and this has been a terrific interview.
John Tull: Thank you.