To The Editors of the Crimson:
In his recent letter to the Crimson, April 17, 1981. Nathan Glazer suggests that Harvard Law School's Legal Services Institute in Jamaica Plain is a good example of the kind of wasteful government spending which "can be cut without any apparent losses to the poor." He reaches this conclusion by a "simple division" of the amount of federal funds being spent ($500,000) by the number of students (32) at the Institute. Readers of the Crimson would benefit. I think, from knowing some additional facts about this equation.
The Institute provides legal services for the poor in Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Roslindale, West Roxbury areas of the city which had no legal services at all before the Institute was established. In this area live over forty thousand people eligible for legal aid services, including one-quarter of Boston's elderly poor, one-fifth of its public housing residents, and substantial numbers of its poor Black and Hispanic residents. The $500,000 in federal funds allocated to the Institute goes toward the maintenance of an office and the salaries of a staff of five lawyers, three paralegals, four intake and receptionist workers and their administrative and clerical support. Harvard supplements these funds ($150,000) per year to pay for the Institute's educational program, courses and clinical instruction and to contribute to the research and training functions which the Institute offers the legal services community. The federal cost is approximately twelve dollars per poor person, comparable to the cost per poor person for legal and services throughout the Boston area.
It may be that Professor Glazer feels this is an excessive amount of money to devote to legal services to the poor, or that staff and students are not doing all they can or should to meet the legal needs of the area's poor residents. Our experience argues otherwise. In the past year, the Institute has assisted over 2,500 clients and has an active caseload of over six hundred. No office in the city handles a larger volume. Nevertheless, the Institute is only reaching five percent of the eligible clientcle and is so overloaded that it can give substantial help to only a very small percentage of those who come for assistance. Every month, hundreds of people with clearly valid claims against unscrupulous creditors, lawless landlords, and unresponsive welfare agencies have to be turned away. The irony of Professor Glazer's comments is that not less, but far more funds will be needed if the poor in Boston and elsewhere are to have even minimal access to the kind of equal justice Professor Glazer has, himself, so often extolled.
All of these facts could have been obtained by a phone call. The Institute, by using law students, is experimenting with an alternative way to delvier legal aid services, and with modes of training and practice education that, we hope, will, if legal services survives the President's attack on it, contribute to the quality of legal aid work throughout the country. The costs of education in this context are obviously not identical to the cost of providing the service.
The simple arithmetic which Professor Glazer offers is precisely the kind of thinking that has made programs for the poor a scapegoat for the social meanness and shortisighted economic analysis that is currently dominating the country. I'm very sorry to see Professor Glazer adding to it. Gary Bellow Professor of Law