Equal Justice: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee

Equal Justice: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee

Equal Justice: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee

Equal Justice: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee

Synopsis

The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee is one of the oldest public-interest law firms in the nation. It was founded in 1916 with a unique mandate to do all things necessary for the prevention of injustice. Over the past century, the Society has been instrumental in many reforms, such as Wisconsins first small claims court, its first public defender program, and its first class action lawsuit brought on behalf of the poor.

Equal Justice: A History of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee presents this fascinating and formative history. From Professor John Commons visionary proposal in 1910 to establish a free legal aid program to the Societys current efforts to assist clients dealing with the ramifications of the real estate market collapse. Thomas Cannons book traces in detail the who, how, and why of this revered legal institution. With a forward by former Governor Jim Doyle and an introduction by Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, Equal Justice also contains an index of the legal cases discussed and a collection of 45 reports, profiles, studies, and speeches relevant to the history of the Society and its effects on Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

Of interest not only to those directly involved with the Societys work, Equal Justice should be of interest to anyone concerned with the social and legal landscape of the city of Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin, or the United States in general.

Excerpt

The centennial anniversary of Professor John R. Commons’ visionary proposal in 1910 to establish a free legal aid program in Milwaukee offers a unique opportunity to reflect back on the past hundred years as we contemplate going forward into a second century of service. Reviewing the rich and colorful history of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee conjures up an overwhelming sense of gratitude to all those who have gone before us in the ongoing struggle to achieve our mission of equal justice for the poor.

Academics tend to treat the national legal aid movement as a subsidiary development of the Progressive Reform Era (1890-1920) in American history. That view, however, obscures the movement’s earlier origins in the Freedmen’s Bureau (1865) and in New York’s German immigrant organization (1876). Although the history of legal aid in the United States has been relatively little studied, it is more complex than some have previously suggested. As this book shows, in Milwaukee at least, it was informed by multiple impulses that included religious values, Anglo-American constitutional principles, the legal profession’s ethical norms, Wisconsin’s populist constitution and nineteenth-century jurisprudence, a sense of noblesse oblige among the well off, good government reforms of the Progressive Era, the Wisconsin Idea, and Milwaukee’s unique brand of urban socialism. For comparative purposes, accounts of some of the larger individual legal aid programs around the country may be usefully consulted, notably those in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Cleveland. Nonetheless, the emergence of the legal aid movement, both locally and nationally, remains a virtual footnote in American legal history.

By way of contrast, selected aspects of Wisconsin’s legal history have been well served by scholars over the years. To mention just a few of the outstanding books in this fecund tradition, we have benefit of an important study on the state’s constitutional conventions, a narrative . . .

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