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Recreating State Support - The Role of Law Schools

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March 1997

By Bob Gillett
Director, Legal Services of Southeastern Michigan

Introduction. There were three main aspects of the 1996 LSC changes: (1) a 33% funding cut that reduced funding to every program in the country; (2) new advocacy restrictions that affected programs that continued to receive LSC funds; and (3) the elimination of funding for support services-- including national support, state support, clearinghouse, and regional training center services.

Beginning with the 1995 state planning process, legal services programs began to respond to the federal changes. However, two years later, the area where there's been the least community discussion and organizational adjustment is the re-invention of state support.

In this article, I'd like to discuss why it's taken many states some time to address this component of the delivery system, to describe the creation of a new state support delivery model in Michigan, and (based on our experience in Michigan) to encourage other states to consider collaborations with law schools in addressing state support needs.

1. Why state support got lost in the shuffle. Prior to the 1996 LSC cuts, there were many different kinds of programs that were collectively called "state support". In many states the LSC support grant went to a Field program. (These were called "embedded programs".) In a smaller number of states there were "stand alone" support units. In several states the support grant was distributed (usually by function) among two or more programs.

In only a few states was the support grant large enough to operate a comprehensive support program. In 1995, only four state support programs had annual LSC grants over $400,000. In the remaining states, the average support grant was under $150,000-- clearly insufficient funds to operate a "full service" support program.

The services provided by support programs varied significantly from state to state. Some programs focused their services in the areas of impact litigation and statewide policy advocacy. Others focused on legislative advocacy. Still others focused on training, publications, briefbanks, and substantive law task forces.

In 1993, PAG and NLADA jointly convened the Delivery Working Group ("DWG") process. LSC staff also participated in this community wide planning effort. Two of the goals of the DWG process were to establish an accepted definition of "support services" and to standardize those services among the states. The general approach of the DWG was to define the "core functions" of a support program. These functions were identified as: (1) State level advocacy; (2) Support for the advocacy of others; (3) Management, administrative, and organizational support; (4) Information sharing with program staff, board members, and the low income client community; (5) Training; (6) Resource development within the state; and (7) Preserving and strengthening legal services as a institution within the state. Of course, this process was entirely derailed by the congressional elections of 1994 and the survival fight of the 104th congress.

Because there was so much divergence in models of state support; because this responsibility became entirely a state responsibility in 1996; and because in many states 100% of the support funding was eliminated with the federal cuts; there have been fewer new developments in state support than in most of the other areas impacted in the 1996 LSC cuts.

2. The Michigan experience in recreating state support. Michigan had an active state planning process in 1995. There were three main partners in the planning process-- the Michigan State Bar Foundation ("MSBF") (the state funder), the State Bar of Michigan ("SBM"), and the Legal Services Association of Michigan ("LSAM") (the providers' organization). However, the planning process was much more inclusive than just these three organizational interests-- e.g., local bar representatives, non-LSC program representatives, united way representatives, elder law advocates, the law schools, staff, and clients were also included. The process was organized around nine workgroups, each assigned one substantive area from LSC Program Letter 95-1.

Through this process, two main support functions were identified: activities to enhance the advocacy capacity of local programs and activities to assure that a full range of advocacy remained available to Michigan's low income citizens. The Plan found that support was a critical part of a state delivery system and recommended that the Bar Foundation allocate additional state funds to maintain adequate support capacity in the Michigan.

In implementing the Plan, the Bar Foundation decided to entirely re-open the support process. The Foundation began by outlining the key support functions and requesting comments on this outline. The final Foundation outline valued both sets of support functions, but placed the highest priority on those support activities that enhance the advocacy capacity of local programs.

After publishing a final support outline, the Foundation issued a request for proposals to provide the identified services. Seven programs-- two programs that were current LSC grantees, two programs that were prior LSC grantees, and three non-LSC entities-- initially provided proposals. One of the new entities interested in providing state support services was the University of Michigan Law School ("UMLS").

The Foundation conducted an active selection process. The MSBF critiqued the proposals and commented in detail to each applicant. They encouraged applicants to collaborate. At the end of the process, the Bar Foundation selected a new state support provider-- the Michigan Poverty Law Program ("MPLP"). This program is a partnership between the Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project ("MMLAP") (a former LSC program), Legal Services of Southeastern Michigan ("LSSEM") (a current LSC grantee), and the University of Michigan Law School ("UMLS").

The program operates out of three offices. A Grand Rapids office housed at MMLAP which handles restricted litigation and legislative advocacy; an Ann Arbor office which is jointly staffed by LSSEM and the UMLS and which handles the field program support functions; and a Poverty Law Clinic at the UMLS which handles litigation referred from both of the other MPLP offices.

Because of the level of Foundation funding and because of the matching resources brought to MPLP by each of its partners, there are more resources in state support in Michigan now than there have been in many years. The overall staffing of the three offices is ten professional staff, including eight attorneys, a training coordinator, and a technology staff person. In addition, twelve to fourteen law students are placed in the program each semester.

MPLP views itself as part of a broader, coordinated advocacy network in Michigan-- including Michigan Legal Services (the former LSC-funded support provider which now focuses on restricted litigation), the Center for Civil Justice (a non-LSC funded program serving ten counties in eastern Michigan), and the Michigan League for Human Services (a state wide education and advocacy group made up of over 300 human service agency members).

3. Some comments on the role of Law Schools in supporting the delivery of legal services to the poor. A somewhat unique feature of MPLP is the leading role that the UMLS plays as a direct provider of support services in the state. This has proved to be a strength of the program; this is a partnership worth exploring in other states.

It is important to note that, prior to beginning the MPLP partnership, there was an existing relationship between the University of Michigan Law School and legal services programs. With UMLS, we were working with an institution with which legal services had worked closely and productively for many years. The UMLS General Clinic has been a great litigation resource for legal services since the mid 1970's. UMLS and LSSEM have jointly operated clinic-based domestic violence services for several years.

There are several reasons why the time is right for an expanded role for law schools in the area of civil legal services to the poor. (1) Law schools are currently much more focused on teaching professional ethics (including the lawyers' obligation to provide free service to the poor) and in offering students an opportunity to consider public interest careers. (2) Many schools wish to expand clinical opportunities to their students. Legal services programs are uniquely situated to provide those opportunities. (3) The leadership at many law schools is sincerely committed to having legal education play a role in the larger community-- a community-connected public interest program is an important part of this vision of legal education. In fact, one of the main funding sources for MPLP is a grant secured by UMLS from the University of Michigan Provost's Office to support service-based learning projects in the community. (4) Many leaders in legal education are aware of and concerned about the crisis in legal aid funding.

I also think that this is an ideal time for legal services programs to be reaching out for these partnerships. (1) In the current political climate, our programs need the broadest base of political support possible. (2) As institutions, law schools have many strengths and resources that can be invaluable to legal services programs-- e.g., structured systems for skills trainings; access to technology-based resources and faculty expertise; in-house technical capacities; etc. (3) There is always value in bringing new perspectives to our services. The perspectives provided by UMLS have been especially valuable-- in areas ranging from litigation strategy on individual cases to approaches to fundraising.

4. Conclusion. I consider the planning of state support services one of the main pieces of unfinished business left over from the 1996 LSC cuts. As LSC provides us all with another opportunity to revisit the planning process this year, I hope that states place the development of an effective support system at the top of their planning priorities. One of the initial work goals of the Project for the Future of Equal Justice (the new NLADA/CLASP initiative) is to facilitate efforts to develop state advocacy and support capacities in states where there is not currently an effective support structure. When considering the options for designing support, I'd encourage programs to consider the possibility of including law schools in the provision of state support services.

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