Legal Services Corporation

Legal Services Corporation in the United States

Federal agency established to underwrite some of the costs of legal counsel for the poor in noncriminal matters. Funding for legal aid to the poor was initially provided through the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). As OEO’s poverty programs were eliminated in the 1970s, Congress created the Legal Services Corporation in 1974 to maintain at least some access to legal assistance for the poor. The corporation does not do legal work itself. Rather, it contracts with individual attorneys, law firms, organizations, and local governmental agencies to represent eligible clients. The corporation then funds those providing legal services through a grant process. Eligibility for legal services is based in part on income levels established by the corporation’s governing board. Eligibility criteria are sensitive to several factors, including number of dependents and regional cost-of-living differences. In addition, the applicant for aid must have the kind of legal problem the local attorney is able to handle. A number of matters may be eligible for assistance, but most cases involve domestic matters, problems with government benefit programs, personal finances, and housing.

See Also

Legal Clinic (Judicial Personnel issue).

Analysis and Relevance

The Legal Services Corporation was an outgrowth of the Johnson Administration’s war on poverty in the 1960s. Its OEO forerunner was established at the time the Supreme Court was extending the constitutional protection of counsel to the indigent in criminal matters. It was the view of Congress that the poor needed legal representation in civil matters as well. At that time, the only civil representation for the poor was provided by local legal aid societies. These societies did what they could with volunteer attorneys, but invariably met only a small fraction of the need.

Legal services available under the OEO program were often the means of social activism. Congress sought to prevent this when it created the Legal Services Corporation in 1974. Restrictions have been placed on the activities of attorneys associated with the corporation as well as the kinds of cases that can be accepted by funded lawyers. Various challenges to policies and agency actions have been prohibited, for example. Under the Reagan Administration, which sought to eliminate the corporation altogether, funding was decreased. In addition, Reagan appointed persons to the corporation’s governing board who supported restricting its role. Nonetheless, the corporation has increased availability of legal services for the poor and remains a relatively visible means of providing counsel in civil matters. The need remains substantial, and in addition to counsel available through the corporation, other legal services can be obtained from locally funded agencies and from lawyers who donate their time pro bono.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Legal Services Corporation from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Legal Services Corporation in the United States

The Legal Services Corporation’s mission is to promote equal access to justice in our
Nation and to provide high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons.

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a private, nonpro?t corporation established
by the Legal Services Act of 1974, as amended (42 U.S.C. 2996), to promote
equal access to justice under the law for all Americans.

The Legal Services Corporation is headed by an 11-member Board of Directors, appointed by the President
and con?rmed by the Senate. By law, the Board is bipartisan and no more than six
members may be of the same political party.

The Legal Services Corporation is funded by congressional appropriations and provides legal services
through grants to independent local legal services provider programs selected
through a system of competition. In 2009, LSC funded 136 programs. Together, they
serve every county and congressional district in the Nation, as well as the U.S.
territories. Programs are also funded to address the needs of Native Americans
and migrant farmworkers.

The legal services delivery system is based on several principles: local
priorities, national accountability, competition for grants, and a strong
public-private partnership. Local programs are governed by their own
boards of directors, which set priorities and determine the types of cases that will
be handled subject to restrictions set by Congress. A majority of each local board
is appointed by local bar associations and one-third of each local board is
composed of client representatives appointed by client groups. Each board
hires its own executive director. Programs may supplement their LSC grants with additional funds from State and local governments and other sources. They further leverage Federal funds by involving private attorneys in the delivery
of legal services for the poor, mostly through volunteer pro bono work.

LSC-funded programs do not handle criminal cases, nor do they accept feegenerating
cases that private attorneys are willing to accept on a contingency basis. In addition, in 1996 a series of new limitations were placed upon activities
in which LSC-funded programs may engage on behalf of their clients, even
with non-LSC funds. All Legal Services programs must comply with laws enacted
by Congress and the implementing regulations promulgated by the Legal
Services Corporation.

From the Website of the Service

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation. Established in 1974, the Legal Services Corporation operates as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that promotes equal access to justice and provides grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. LSC distributes more than 90 percent of its total funding to 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 800 offices.

The Legal Services Corporation promotes equal access to justice by awarding grants to legal services providers through a competitive grants process; conducting compliance reviews and program visits to oversee program quality and compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements as well as restrictions that accompany LSC funding, and by providing training and technical assistance to programs. The Legal Services Corporation encourages programs to leverage limited resources by partnering and collaborating with other funders of civil legal aid, including state and local governments, Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), access to justice commissions, the private bar, philanthropic foundations, and the business community.

The Legal Services Corporation is headed by a bipartisan board of directors whose 11 members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Who is helped by LSC-funded programs?

The Legal Services Corporation-funded programs help people who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines – in 2015, $14,713 for an individual, $30,313 for a family of four. Clients come from every ethnic group and every age group and live in rural, suburban, and urban areas. They are the working poor, veterans, homeowners and renters, families with children, farmers, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Women – many of whom are struggling to keep their children safe and their families together – comprise 70 percent of clients.

What kinds of legal issues do low-income people need help with?

Legal assistance is necessary to address many issues that affect low-income individuals and families. The most frequent cases involve:

  • Family law: LSC grantees help victims of domestic violence by obtaining protective and restraining orders, help parents obtain and keep custody of their children, assist family members in obtaining guardianship for children without parents, and other family law matters. Almost a third of all cases closed by local LSC programs are family law cases.
  • Housing and Foreclosure Cases: As the second largest category of all cases closed, these matters  involve helping to resolve landlord-tenant disputes, helping homeowners prevent foreclosures or renegotiate their loans, assisting renters with eviction notices whose landlords are being foreclosed on, and helping people maintain federal housing subsidies when appropriate.
  • Consumer Issues: Eleven percent of cases involve protecting the elderly and other vulnerable groups from being victimized by unscrupulous lenders, helping people file for bankruptcy when appropriate and helping people manage their debts.
  • Employment and Income Maintenance: More than 15 percent of cases involve helping working Americans obtain promised compensation from private employers, and helping people obtain and retain government benefits such as disability, veterans, and unemployment compensation benefits to which they are entitled.
  • Helping Military Families:—the first website in the nation to focus exclusively on federal legal rights and legal resources important to veterans – is funded by an LSC Technology Initiatives Grant. This free service enables military families and veterans to access a wide array of legal information and assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs, in a directive, encourages use of the website in connection with service to homeless veterans.
  • Responding to Disasters:  LSC has a long history with helping victims of natural disasters. The Legal Services Corporation has built a national network of experience and expertise—including legal services providers and national organizations such as the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—to help programs better serve victims when disasters strike.

How is assistance provided?

Legal aid programs provide extensive representation in individual cases when required, but they also provide:

  • Clinics, often staffed by pro bono attorneys, where legal problems can be identified and addressed on-site or scheduled for additional assistance if needed;
  • Advice and self-help materials (delivered via workshops, telephone help lines, online chat tools, downloadable court forms, etc.) that help people understand their rights and responsibilities, when legal assistance may be needed and where to find it, and get assistance with self-representation when necessary; and
  • Referrals to other social services as appropriate.

How many are helped?

LSC-funded programs helped approximately 1.8 million people in 2013. However, demand for legal aid far outstrips the resources available. This is known as the “justice gap”. Recent studies indicate that legal aid offices turn away 50 percent or more of those seeking help. The size of the population eligible for legal assistance has increased dramatically from 2007. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 statistics on poverty show that more than one in five – 63.6 million Americans – qualified for civil legal assistance funded by LSC.

Congressional Oversight

As a non-profit independent agency created by the Congress, LSC receives the majority of its annual funding from the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS). Congressional oversight of LSC is conducted by the Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law in the House of Representatives and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the Senate.

Below links are to websites for each of the House and Senate CJS appropriations subcommittees, and House and Senate committees with oversight jurisdiction over LSC.

House Appropriations
House Oversight
Senate Appropriations
Senate Oversight


The United States Congress, in the declaration of purpose of the Legal Services Corporation Act, found that “there is a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our Nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances;” that “there is a need to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel;”and that “providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate legal counsel will serve best the ends of justice and assist in improving opportunities for low-income persons.” In keeping with this mandate, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) establishes as its mission: “To promote equal access to justice in our Nation and to provide high quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons.”

Laws and Regulations

As an independent corporation created by Congress and charged with distributing government funds, LSC is governed by federal law. Federal law also applies to recipients of LSC grant funds. The LSC Act, LSC Appropriations and LSC Regulations provide guidance on the operation and responsibilities of LSC and its grantees.

The LSC Act and the LSC Appropriations provide statutory rules and restrictions on LSC and LSC grantees.

The Inspector General Act establishes an Office of Inspector General in LSC and provides the Inspector General with specific authority and powers.

LSC also publishes notices in the Federal Register (after 1993).

Legal Services Corporation Background

Legal Services Corporation: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Legal Services Corporation. This part provides references, in relation to Legal Services Corporation, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Legal Services Corporation by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Legal Services Corporation and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Legal Services Corporation or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Legal Services Corporation and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Legal Services Corporation. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Legal Services Corporation should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Legal Services Corporation when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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