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Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, by LSC Board Member Robert J. Grey, Jr., April 5, 2011

Chairman Wolf, Congressman Fattah, members of the Subcommittee, I am Robert Grey, a member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation and Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Board.  I was appointed by President Barack Obama to this position in August 2009 and confirmed by the Senate in March 2010.  I am a proud son of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a graduate of Washington and Lee School of Law and a partner with Hunton & Williams LLP in Richmond.  I was President of the American Bar Association from 2004-2005 and remain very active in the ABA.

I want to begin by thanking you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing today. The Legal Services Corporation is on the front lines of ensuring equal justice under law in this country and I consider my service to the Corporation and the nation a great honor.  I bring you greetings today from Chairman John G. Levi and our entire bipartisan Board. Under the leadership of John Levi and Vice Chair Martha Minow, this Board is working as a team to do the right thing for our nation.   We listen to and respect one another’s viewpoints about how best to fulfill LSC’s mission of providing civil legal assistance to indigent clients.

Let me also thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your long-time support of the mission of the Legal Services Corporation.   As a former president of the ABA, an advocate of many years for LSC, and a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth, I have watched you support this Corporation through some very stormy waters of the past. I feel that our ability to have a discussion today about the budget of LSC is in large part a result of your loyalty to the mission of equal justice for all Americans and your support for the survival of this program in the late 1990’s.  I thank you.

Jim Sandman has stated the case for the need.  Let me associate myself with everything he has told you about the increasing importance of federal funding for legal aid.  What I would like to speak to is our Board’s commitment to be vigilant stewards of the federal appropriations that have been entrusted to us for distribution. I would also like to make an announcement today regarding our commitment to work with the private bar to leverage those federal resources and develop even more resources to assist a growing pool of eligible clients.

Stewardship of the Federal Appropriation

Government Accountability Office Reports

As a testament to this Board’s resolve to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the governance and management of the Corporation, I am pleased to be able to report today that all 17 of the recommendations of GAO’s 2007 reports on governance and management have now been implemented by the Corporation.  GAO has certified the implementation and I have attached that certification to this statement. (Attachment 1)  In addition,   13   of   the   17   recommendations   contained   in   the   June   2010   report “Improvements Needed in Controls Over Grant Awards and Grantee Program Effectiveness” have already been implemented and the documentation has been provided to GAO.  Of the four recommendations not yet completed, three will be addressed as a part of our new Board’s strategic planning process now underway.  Our Board will keep the Subcommittee fully and currently informed of progress on the completion of all recommendations.

Special Task Force on Fiscal Oversight

Shortly after the organization of our new Board, two tasks were considered paramount. First, we needed to recruit and hire a new CEO for the corporation, someone with the management background and skills to move LSC forward and ensure an efficient and effective  organization.    We  have  accomplished  that  goal.    Second,  we  needed  to determine whether the structure, procedures, and measurements were in place to ensure the  best  fiscal  oversight  of  our  grantees.    About  a  month  after  the  first  six  Board nominees took office, a high-profile case became public—one that  brought into question whether we were doing all that we possibly could as a corporation to ensure fiscal integrity of our grantees.

Board Chairman John Levi, who had already been discussing the idea of  a Special Task Force on Fiscal Oversight, moved quickly to create the Task Force to study how fiscal oversight of grantees is currently performed by the Corporation and to report to the Board its findings and recommendations. John also personally recruited and appointed the membership, and asked Victor B. Maddox, the Chairman of our Audit Committee, and me to co-chair the effort.

The Task Force is comprised of the two of us and persons from outside the Corporation and the Board. It includes three senior executives of Fortune 500 corporations, six leaders of  national  foundations,  two  experienced  accounting  executives,  and  two  former inspectors general.  Mr. Chairman, it is an impressive group of individuals, and I have included the membership as an attachment to my testimony. (Attachment 2)

We have begun our work and are in the process of engaging a consultant to assist in the organization of our task and the writing of our final report to the Board.  We are hoping to have a draft report and recommendations completed by July.

Partnership with the Bar – Pro Bono as a Vital Resource

Mr. Chairman, I know that the use of pro bono resources to supplement the resources of civil legal aid is something you are very interested in and have championed on this subcommittee.    The  Board  and  management  of  the  Corporation  thank  you  for  your interest and advocacy for this vital resource for the provision of access to the courts in the United States. Your outreach to LSC and to the American Bar Association early in this budget year was very valuable and a clear indication of your support for our mission.

I am fortunate to be a partner at Hunton & Williams, which has long supported pro bono and opened neighborhood offices in Richmond’s Church Hill, in Charlottesville and in Atlanta. I’ve learned that pro bono can be a very effective tool to help ensure access to justice.

LSC shares your interest in and commitment to the effective, strategic, and creative engagement  of  private  pro  bono  attorneys  and  attorneys  providing  legal  services  to eligible clients at reduced fees in the delivery system of the Legal Services Corporation. That engagement has been an important part of our delivery system for many years. We are fully committed to encouraging and supporting private attorney involvement with LSC-funded  programs  to  expand  the  availability of  civil  legal  assistance  to  eligible clients. LSC programs are currently using a variety of private attorney delivery models and cooperative relationships with the organized bar to serve clients.  Private attorneys are working with programs in urban and rural communities to provide legal assistance to individual clients and to offer community legal education to groups of low-income individuals. They are conducting intake interviews and staffing telephone hotlines and clinics. They are training program attorneys in specialty areas of the law, performing legal  research,  and  assisting  in  the  drafting  and  revising  of  manuals  and  other publications.  In some instances, they are co-counseling with program attorneys.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Legal Services Corporation requires that 12.5 percent of each grant be devoted to support of private attorney involvement within our local programs. This funding goes to recruitment of private attorneys, training, research, technical assistance, and other “back office” support to ensure that their volunteer participation is practical, efficient and effective. The availability of substantive training and support from our local programs is a key factor in obtaining and retaining volunteers and  in  generating  high-quality  pro  bono  work.     Corporate  attorneys,  government attorneys, real estate practitioners, and others may wish to help, but without an intake, screening, training, research, and deployment infrastructure to support them, they are unlikely to step forward.

When resources are available, the screening of cases is an important function to ensure the best outcomes in pro bono representations.  LSC-funded programs often develop the facts of each referral so as to allow participating volunteer and Judicare attorneys to quickly  assess  the  legal  issues  presented. This  may  entail  collecting  necessary documentation and compiling the administrative record.

LSC has placed a great deal of emphasis on private attorney involvement in recent years and this is an area where the efforts have clearly paid off.  In each of the last three years, this Subcommittee increased the funding of the LSC grants program.   Over those last three years, the number of cases closed by pro bono counsel increased by 14,000 and went from 10 percent of all cases closed to the current level of 12 percent.  Increases in funding enable our local programs to provide the support necessary to ensure strong volunteer participation.

As Esther Lardent, President and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute, and one of the key leaders in this field, recently wrote, “The reality is that effective pro bono service by attorneys in private practice is possible only if these attorneys can rely upon the expertise and consistent community presence of LSC programs. Without a strong core of full-time advocates, pro bono simply does not work.”

She went on to add, “Without that critical infrastructure that LSC provides — to screen and place matters, train and mentor volunteer attorneys taking on matters outside their areas of expertise, and identify emerging legal problems and solutions — pro bono, despite the willingness of volunteer attorneys, will inevitably decline.”

The  legal  delivery  system  in  the  United  States  has  evolved  over  the  last  25  years. Changes  in  client  demographics  and  needs,  technology,  and  available  resources necessitate that we revisit and revaluate the ways in which private attorneys are currently integrated into LSC’s legal services delivery structure.   We need to reassess whether there are more effective and strategic methods of involving private, corporate and government attorneys that will result in increased availability of legal services to eligible clients.  While service area needs and resources vary, we all would benefit from assessing how those resources that do exist can be used effectively.

We must ask ourselves:

  • Are we using large law firms, corporate, and government attorneys (who in many settings can do pro bono work) to their full advantage?
  • Have we gotten the most out of attorney and paralegal rotation programs that place firm or corporate personnel in legal services programs for a defined period of time?
  • Have we used technology to its full advantage to mitigate traditional geographic barriers to pro bono resources?
  • Have we done enough to encourage the states’ highest courts and bar associations to  promote  pro  bono  by  implementing  rules  changes  to  facilitate  pro  bono services?
  • Are we making the best use of retired attorneys, whose experience may be of assistance?
  • Is there more that we can do to involve law schools and law students in the delivery of civil legal assistance?
  • Have we taken full advantage of the recently formed Access to Justice entities in our states?

To answer these and other questions, and in furtherance of your call, Mr. Chairman, to expand pro bono legal services for low-income Americans, we are today announcing the formation of the Legal Services Corporation Pro Bono Task Force.  John Levi has been authorized by the Board to form the Task Force and has named Board members Martha Minow and Harry J.F. Korrell III as the co-chairs.  John is in the process of recruiting a blue-ribbon group, and will announce members at the Board’s April meeting.

The Task Force will have a membership that can provide guidance on pro bono in urban and rural communities, can help us better understand what steps to recommend to LSC- funded programs, can identify the most effective delivery models, can help us improve our outreach to the organized bar, the business community, national and state bar associations and others, and can position the Corporation to more consistently foster recognition of the importance of pro bono.

We hope that the task force can address two particular challenges that we all face in our pro bono plans.  First of all, I know that the Chairman is aware of the limits of pro bono in states just like ours.  As you can see from this active attorney address distribution provided by the Virginia State Bar, the vast majority of attorneys in the Commonwealth live in the cities and metropolitan areas of Richmond, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia. (Attachment 3) The poverty population, however, is widespread and encompasses many of Virginia’s rural areas, such as the counties in the southwest region.  It is very difficult to serve the poverty population through pro bono service in areas where there are few lawyers.

Not just in our home state, but in broad sections of this country, there are just not enough attorneys to do this work pro bono.  In the state of Georgia, 69 percent of the state’s lawyers are in the five-county Atlanta Metro area, which has only 28 percent of the state’s poverty population.(Attachment 4) The remaining 154 counties have 31 percent of the lawyers and 72 percent of the poverty population. Six counties in the state have no lawyers, and 29 counties have from 1 to 5 lawyers. Forty percent of the counties have 10 or fewer active lawyers (and this count includes judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and others not generally available for civil legal work).

Secondly, the most robust pro bono programs, and the ones that get the most publicity, are those of the nation’s large law firms. The lawyers in those firms are the ones with the encouragement, opportunity, and income to do pro bono.  But only 15 percent of the lawyers in the United States work in the 250 largest firms (those with more than 174 lawyers). Many solo practitioners and small firm attorneys in smaller cities and rural areas do not have the time, the financial resources, the practice expertise, or the necessary support to do pro bono work.  And the smaller the community, the more likely it is that conflicts of interest prevent attorneys from being able to assist pro bono clients. As Esther Lardent points out, “Conflicts of interest have severely limited volunteer service in foreclosure matters and are often endemic in smaller cities and rural areas.”  When a local firm represents the bank or does the title work in a small town, they are not going to be able to help a low-income homeowner avoid an unnecessary foreclosure.

Mr. Chairman, in light of these challenges, John Levi has told me that he does not want a task force that plows old ground. We want to encourage new thinking and to develop innovative practices. Our job is to find ways to train private lawyers for legal aid work, to equip them with the right information, and to encourage them to experience life as a volunteer attorney. We all believe they will find it immensely rewarding. I believe we can do more for pro bono, and that is our goal.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I’d be happy to answer any questions.

Attachments:

  1. Final Status on GAO 2007 Governance and Accountability Report
  2. Final Status on GAO Grants Management and Oversight Report
  3. LSC Special Task Force on Fiscal Oversight
  4. Virginia Map of Lawyers Per Poor Population
  5. Georgia Map of Lawyers Per Poor Population

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