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State Bar, organizations urge support of Legal Services Corp.

Grant Sovern, left, a partner at Quarles & Brady as well as an attorney with Legal Action's Volunteer Lawyers Project, watches as Boardman & Clark Partner and Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund board member Paul Norman, right, speaks Thursday morning at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison, urging opposition to President Donald Trump's proposal to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, which pays for civil legal aid for clients with low incomes.

Grant Sovern (left), a partner at Quarles & Brady as well as an attorney with Legal Action’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, watches as Boardman & Clark Partner and Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund Board Member Paul Norman speaks Thursday at First United Methodist Church in Madison in opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Legal Services Corp., which pays for civil legal aid for clients with low incomes. (Staff photo by Erika Strebel)

The Wisconsin State Bar has joined dozens of state organizations urging lawmakers to oppose President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate an independent agency that pays for civil legal aid in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation.

The Legal Services Corp. pays for civil legal aid for clients with low incomes. About 90 percent of LSC’s money is distributed to independent nonprofit legal-aid programs around the country, including some in Wisconsin.

The LSC is led by a board of directors that is appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In Wisconsin, Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare depend on grants from the LSC to provide legal services to 9,400 people each year. According to the State Bar, the two receive more than $5 million from LSC, and Judicare would be forced to close shop if the proposal passes; Legal Action, meanwhile, would have to significantly scale back its services.

Together with End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families, the State Bar urged lawmakers to reject the proposal.

The organizations held discussions in both Madison and Milwaukee on Thursday morning. The State Bar and those organizations are joining 40 others for a “Wisconsin Day of Action” in support of the LSC.

Leaders of community organizations such as End Domestic Abuse and YWCA Madison as well as area attorneys urged the public and lawmakers to take action against the proposal.

Attorney Grant Sovern, a partner at Quarles & Brady as well as an attorney with Legal Action’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, was among those who spoke in Madison on Thursday. He noted that legal aid organizations like Legal Action are crucial to helping large firms provide pro bono legal services because those organizations train lawyers and conduct intake procedures to make sure people qualify financially for the free legal aid.

“Without them, we are losing law firms across the country,” he said.

Paul Norman, a partner at Boardman & Clark as well as a member of the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund, said that while the fund is the main source of private money for civil legal aid for organizations such as Legal Action, that money is not enough to keep Legal Action and other organizations functioning.

In Milwaukee, State Bar President Fran Deisinger echoed the call of his colleagues in Madison.

The State Bar is concerned about the proposed elimination of the LSC, the burden that will place on low income families in Wisconsin, and the resulting challenges to our state’s justice system,” he said.

Patti Seger, executive director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, noted Thursday in Madison that while the LSC has been threatened by cuts from other administrations, Trump’s proposal is different.

“This is not a reduction,” she said. “This is a final elimination of the Legal Services Corp. and critical legal services for the nation’s most vulnerable people.”

The American Bar Association has already expressed its opposition to the proposal, calling on members of Congress to restore the LSC’s budget, noting that the LSC helps nearly 1.9 million people throughout the U.S. Its work includes protecting victims of domestic abuse, helping disaster survivors and delivering legal services to rural areas. Law school deans around the nation, including the University of Wisconsin Law School Dean Margaret Raymond, wrote a letter in opposition of the proposal as well.

The LSC is one of 17 independent government agencies based in the Washington, D.C., area that Trump has proposed eliminating from his federal budget. Other agencies include the National Endowment for the arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Legal Action of Wisconsin as Legal Aid, a organization that does not get money from the Equal Justice Fund or the Legal Services Corporation. 

About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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