Fourteen visionary leaders established Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA) in 1966, setting out on a path of equal access to justice for all residents of our region. For the past 50 years, NLSA has traveled down the road, never faltering even as conditions grew more challenging. Instead, NLSA grew more resourceful, evolving and changing with the times and economic conditions.
We began our journey in the company of many others in the 1960’s helping to build the Great Society. We survived the undoing of that national vision to emerge today as a more independent, innovative organization. Credit for NLSA’s remarkable longevity goes to the prompt course corrections made throughout our history by decisive leadership. As government support for civil legal aid dwindled, NLSA turned to the private bar, launching an annual appeal. We also vigorously recruited volunteer attorneys to serve clients on a pro bono basis. We found ways to do more with fewer resources, such as installing a toll-free Helpline to quickly serve those who could benefit from service and advice by phone. We purchased our central office building and channeled the monthly savings into client service. We solicited new partners and initiated innovative programs, such as our Medical-Legal Collaborative for Patients, Veterans Justice Project and Legal Literacy community outreach effort, as ways of extending our reach and expanding our capabilities.
Above all, NLSA greeted each challenge with a redoubled commitment to endure. And endure we have. The staying power of the organization is mirrored in the longevity of our staff – who average over 25 years on the job – and the tenacity of our leadership, who include just five Executive Directors over our 50 year history. We also take special pride in NLSA’s role as an incubator for scores of wise and talented jurists who moved on from this public interest law firm to serve the statewide justice community and beyond.
From the plateau of our golden anniversary, we note both the distance NLSA has traveled and the many miles still to go. Since 1966, NLSA has assisted more than 1.1 million families and individuals in dire civil legal circumstances; yet we are mindful that demand still outstrips NLSA’s capacity to assist everyone. Yet we strive to ensure fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money one has. Equal justice under law is a fundamental American value, engraved on the Supreme Court building and taught in classrooms across the country. NLSA helps to fulfill this promise of justice for all, not just for the few who can afford it.