The response of legal aid communities to dynamic political and policy environments Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 21, 2019
  • Summerlin-Long, Jeffrey A.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Public Policy
  • The large-scale intervention of the federal government in the market for legal services has had a long-lasting impact on the ability of the poor to access the justice system. After briefly reaching minimum access goals in the late 1970s, the legal services community experienced two rounds of retrenchment at the federal level in the 1980s and 1990s. While full retrenchment did not occur, each attack reduced the role of the federal government by cutting funding and gradually removing tools needed to engage in substantive law reform efforts. In response to these attacks, legal services communities across the country sought new sources of funding and altered their organizational structures in an effort to maintain service levels. This dissertation examines these responses and their effects on service levels through a detailed case study of the legal services community in North Carolina. I answer three primary questions: 1) what accounts for the only partial successes of the retrenchment efforts?; 2) how did the legal services community respond to the federal institutional changes?; and 3) how did the combination of the retrenchment and community-level responses affect the level and types of services provided? Adopting a historical institutionalist approach, I first argue that the process of de-legitimation of legal services was incomplete at the federal level because of a series of unintended consequences and a misunderstanding of the public good nature of the law. I then argue that the organizational response in North Carolina was constrained by varying levels of commitment to mission and top-down pushes to consolidate the community. North Carolina's biggest success occurred in the realm of law reform activities as it stood by that mission and transformed itself into a networked form of organization. Finally, I argue that the success in terms of overall service delivery in North Carolina has been mixed. Internal conflicts within the community over consolidation resulted in long term reductions in service levels only partially offset by new funding sources. Furthermore, while levels of individual services have returned to 1995 levels, the distribution of those services has become increasingly skewed toward urban areas because of centralization.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Public Policy."
  • Gitterman, Daniel
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

This work has no parents.