California Bar Journal
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A lifeline for the down and out
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For 25 years, the Legal Services Corporation has been a lifeline for Americans in desperate need. For poor Americans, LSC-funded legal programs have been there at times when they had nowhere else to go.

"I had literally run for my life. I was battered and bruised. I had taken my kids and myself and fled to a woman's shelter. We had nothing . . . I was in fear for my life. Who would help a woman who had nothing but two kids? That's when I found Legal Aid," says a client of Legal Aid of Oklahoma.

"I could not have done anything without your help. Without your help, I would probably have had to live in a cardboard box," says a client of Legal Aid Society of New River Valley, Chris-tiansburg, Va.

For a 47-year-old impoverished dialysis patient in Wheeling, W.Va., legal aid prevented cut-off of Medicaid benefits, which could have been fatal.

For Lucy Johnson, 55, of Syracuse, N.Y., LSC helped at a time when the local power company planned to cut off electricity to her building because the building management failed to pay the bill and filed for bankruptcy. "The building is home to many elderly and asthmatic patients who depend on respirators and other medical equipment, and they wanted to know how they would survive without electricity," she says. Legal Services of Central New York worked out a plan to keep the electricity on and ensure the utility was paid.

Philip S. AndersonThese are just a few of the millions of people legal aid lawyers help every year. More than two-thirds of LSC clients are women - most of them mothers with children. The legal problems faced by those living in poverty can have serious, long-term consequences for children, and, as a result, for society as a whole. The most common type of LSC-funded cases are family law, housing, employment, government benefits and consumer matters.

It is a time to celebrate the work of LSC and the difference it has made in millions of lives across this country. On July 25, we marked the 25th anniversary of the signing by President Nixon of the legislation creating the Legal Services Corporation. The goal President Nixon stated was for LSC to become a "permanent part of our system of justice."

With its fiscal 1999 budget of $300 million, LSC currently funds more than 250 local programs, serving every county and congressional district in the nation. LSC distributes 97 percent of the funds it receives to these programs. Through public-private partnerships, LSC grantees leverage funds to raise nearly $230 million annually in other government and private funding. LSC-funded programs, along with the ABA and state and local bars, maximize and promote pro bono service by private attorneys.

As we look ahead to the next 25 years, we should also take heed of a warning by Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.). "Without adequate funding for legal services," warns Ramstad, "our poorest, most vulnerable citizens will be unable to have legal representation in civil matters. 'Equal Justice Under the Law,' a statement seen by Americans every day on the Supreme Court building, will be empty words."

LSC has been a remarkable success in its first 25 years. Without LSC, the elderly widow, the disabled child, the battered wife would be without a voice, and without hope.

LSC helps fulfill the promise of our country, that our justice system is available to all members of our society, even those without resources. Both the Congress and the organized bar must ensure that America keeps that promise for the next 25 years.

Phillip S. Anderson is immediate past president of the American Bar Association.