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Legal Services Corporation Act (1974)

Legal Services Corporation Act (1974)

Travis McDade

Excerpt from the Legal Services Corporation Act

The Congress finds and declares that

  1. there is a need to provide equal access to the system of equal justice in our Nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances;
  2. there is a need to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be other wise unable to afford adequate legal counsel and to continue the present vital legal services program;
  3. providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate legal counsel will serve best the ends of justice;
  4. for many of our citizens, the availability of legal services has reaffirmed faith in our government of laws;

In 1964, in an effort to combat poverty in the United States, Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act. Though there were no specific provisions in the act relating to legal services, the Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1967 specifically added a legal services program to "further the cause of justice among persons living in poverty by mobilizing the assistance of lawyers and legal institutions." The program was unique in that it offered federal resources to people otherwise unable to afford help in civil litigation. Situated within the Office of Economic Opportunity, the executive branch would administer legal services.

In 1971 the president recommended that, rather than retaining the Legal Services program within the executive branch, Congress charter an independent, nonprofit corporation to assume the program's duties. For two years Congress considered legislation to create the Legal Service Corporation (LSC), but members disagreed about its structure. Finally, in 1974, Congress passed the Legal Services Corporation Act (LSCA) (P.L. 93-355, 88 Stat. 378) and the president signed it into law.

In its general aim, the LSC was similar to the Legal Services program that had existed under the Office of Economic Opportunity: to provide quality legal help in the civil justice arena to people otherwise unable to afford it. In its practical details, however, the 1974 law was much different. There were two important differences in the LSC as created by the 1974 act.

First, the LSC was to be an independent corporation. The Legal Services program had been subject to the political exigencies of the day. Depending on the director, the program could have a radically different agenda from administration to administration. This politicization was detrimental to a consistent and uniform functioning of the program. The new LSC was to be insulated, as much as possible, from political concerns. The president, with advice and consent of the Senate, appointed the eleven members of the board of directors. Each board member could serve for no more than two consecutive three-year terms. Also, no more than six members of the board could be from one political party.

Second, the LSCA enjoined the LSC from engaging in political conduct. What this meant was that no employee of LSC, in his or her official capacity, was to encourage or engage in public dissent or picketing, civil disobedience, or striking. Nor could the LSC attempt to influence the passage or defeat of legislationor campaign for any measure, initiative, referenda, or candidate.

In 1977 the LSCA was amended to address deficiencies in the original law. The amendments required the LSC to establish procedures for determining service priorities, taking into account the needs of clients eligible for assistance, including people with disabilities and other individuals facing special difficulties in accessing legal services.

See also: Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.


Auerbach, Jerold S. Unequal Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

George, Warren E. "Development of the Legal Services Corporation." 61 Cornell Law Review 681692, 1976.

Moliterno, James E., and John M. Levy. Ethics of the Lawyer's Work. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1993.


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