Antone “Gerry” Singsen

Executive VP of LSC. Previously legal aid lawyer in New York City. Later active in Massachusetts including the Harvard Law School program on the legal profession.

Gerry Singsen and Hillary Clinton smiling and talking

Person details

Where most active professionally: Massachusetts, National, and New York
Law type: Civil
Lists: In Memoriam, LSC Board/Staff, and Reggie
Source: CNEJL
Date deceased: Mar 1, 2024

Bio

Antone Gerry Singsen with hat

What others say

Obituary

Antone “Gerry” Singsen; A lifetime devoted to securing equal justice under the law for low-income people

Gerry Singsen, national advocate for civil legal aid for people living in poverty, passed away on March 1, 2024. Gerry’s career with legal aid was long, varied, and inspirational. He was a leader, a visionary, a strategist, a mentor, and a doer, who valued excellence, integrity, collaboration, and change in service of our country’s most marginalized and needy.

In 1942, Antone Gerhardt Singsen III was the first of five children born to Antone and Mary Ellen Singsen. After graduating from Brown University in 1964 and Magna Cum Laude from Columbia Law School in 1967, Gerry clerked for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, then began his service as a staff attorney and Heber Smith Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County. He litigated New York’s welfare residency case, a case that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, won a seminal voting rights case, created a county-wide community development effort, and became a Unit Director.

But that was just the beginning for Gerry. He was soon a leader and visionary in managing and ensuring funding for civil legal services for the poor. As Deputy Director of Community Action for Legal Services in New York City, he became nationally known for establishing innovative and effective management and performance systems.

As a result, he was called upon four different times to serve the federal legal services community at critical junctions. He helped to start up the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in 1975. He came back to establish a funding policy in 1978 that guided the largest expansion of federal civil legal services ever. Then, federal legal services came under political attack. In 1979, as LSC’s Vice President for Finance and Management, Gerry played a key role in the fight to save legal services from Reagan administration cuts. Finally, he returned in 1994 to help fight Newt Gingrich’s efforts to close numerous local legal services programs and cut back funding.

Gerry spread his knowledge and vision nation-wide. He led endless workshops throughout the country. In 1983, he became the Director of the Harvard Law School Program on the Legal Profession and was the founder and four-year coordinator of the Ford Foundation-funded Intra University Consortium on Poverty Law.

Gerry wrote more than 28 articles on all aspects of legal services for the poor, from finance, to lay advocacy, hotlines, and the role of law schools and private attorneys. Perhaps his most influential writing was “High Quality Legal Representation: The Fundamental Goal for Legal Services for the Poor,” in which he set the national standard that the goal of legal services was not just to provide legal representation, but to do so in a manner that improved the lives of poor people.

Together, Gerry and his wife Jayne formed “Singsen and Tyrrell Associates,” a professional training organization that equipped generations of legal services staff to improve their agencies’ financial and program management performance.

For many in Massachusetts, Gerry is best known for his work with the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. He led the state planning effort that informed the Commission’s creation in 2005 and served as consultant to the Commission until he retired in 2016.

With Gerry’s guidance and hard work, the Commission increased funding for Massachusetts programs and identified best practices for systemic advocacy, intake, screening, and hotline processes, as well as for fundraising, social service partnerships, court-based service centers, and expanding the civil right to counsel. The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission was often recognized as a model for establishing other, similar state-level commissions dedicated to expanding access to justice.

In 2012, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association awarded Gerry the Denison Ray Award for dedicating his professional life to equal justice for the poor. In 2017, he received a lifetime service award from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute as well as a special Access to Justice Award in recognition of his longtime service to the Access to Justice Commission and his many years of leadership in improving access to justice in Massachusetts.

Recently, Gerry completed the first draft of “Making Legal Services Count,” a forthcoming memoir chronicling his lifetime of contributions to equal justice for all.

Gerry will be remembered by colleagues as a strategic thinker who attentively engaged with all stakeholders to work things out. He did this with grace and a smile, and with warmth and compassion for both the recipients of legal aid, as well as those who do the work to provide services.

Most importantly, Gerry is remembered as a wonderful human being. He was trusting and forgiving, generous, gentle and kind, and most of all loving and patient.

Mr. Singsen’s first marriage ended in divorce but gave Gerry two daughters. In 1985, he married Jayne Tyrrell, an advocate for increasing legal aid funding in Massachusetts.

In addition to his beloved wife Jayne Tyrrell, Mr. Singsen leaves his cherished daughters [and other family]. Gerry will be missed.