While serving as governor of California, Ronald Reagan expressed his anger with the activity of one group of government-funded poverty lawyers, accusing them of "ideological ambulance chasing." 1 Commenting more generally on the national program funding these lawyers, Vice President Spiro Agnew asked: "Isn't it possible that we have gone too far when the federal government constructs a program which encourages individual lawyers to test at public expense their own individual theories of how the resources, rights, and benefits of that society should be distributed among the population?"2 More recently, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms charged that "the Legal Services Corporation has festered into a gaggle of political activists run amok." 3 Echoing these sentiments, conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly lamented that the "Legal Services Corporation . . . has turned into a monster which is fomenting radical and revolutionary programs at the taxpayers' expense." 4
As these statements reveal, government-funded legal services programs for the poor have been immersed in political controversy for most of their history. 5 The controversy rages despite little empirical evidence regarding their operations and daily activities. This book seeks to shed empirical light on the continuing controversy by answering some central questions raised by the quotations above: Are criticisms of poverty lawyers and legal services programs justified? What do LSC programs actually do? What explains their goals and activities?