Legal services for the poor in the United States
Harward, Brian McIlhenny
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This dissertation explores the nature of civil legal representation in the United States. Civil legal representation is important to consider in the context of democratic principles. The common understanding of the "law on the books" suggests universal access to the legal apparatus of the state, while the "law in action" in effect limits accessibility on the basis of the economic marketplace. Those who cannot afford attorneys for civil legal disputes may not have access to counsel. By extension then, low-income citizens may have limited opportunities for articulating their claims in court. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was founded to provide one avenue for access to the legal system for low income Americans. Recipients of LSC funds also receive contributions from states. However, states vary in terms of their levels of support for legal services. This dissertation examines that variation. I analyze two time periods: 1985-1990 and 1996 to 1999 using data gathered by the Legal Services Corporation. I employ ordinary least squares estimation and Heckman selection models to test several hypotheses regarding states’ decisions to supplement the federal funding for legal services. I find that state political ideology, economic capacity of the state, and institutional design shape the decision-making environment for civil legal services. In addition, I find evidence that suggests that states are sensitive to shifts in intergovernmental relations in the area of legal services.