By Beverly Allen, ISBA Standing Committee on Delivery of Legal Services
Legal aid programs have been at the forefront of the war on poverty and the fight for equal access to justice for all since its inception. Historically, legal aid played a crucial role in ensuring equal protections under the law involving social security, housing, health care, education, employment, and anti-discrimination issues for those who could not afford legal representation. In 1965, the federal legal aid programs focused efforts on what was coined, “The War on Poverty.” In 1975, the Legal Services Corporation Act refocused the purpose of the programs from addressing poverty to achieving equal access to justice.
Today, legal aid programs continue to focus on issues affecting the poor. People of color, are three times as likely as whites to be poor, according to the 2000 Census. People of color are more likely to experience substandard housing conditions; poor medical care; inferior education; a higher unemployment rate; and discrimination in the welfare system.  These conditions are the consequences of institutional racism.