Legal Aid–Lay Control and Organizational Complexity Render OEO Legal Service Program Unacceptable to New York Court–In re Community Action for Legal Services, Inc.

The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) and the New York City Council Against Poverty approved the organization and the OEO funding of three legal service corporations as part of a comprehensive program to provide legal assistance to New York City’s poor. According to the plan, the first corporation, Community Action for Legal Services, Inc. (CALS), was to approve proposed plans for setting up and operating neighborhood law offices with OEO funds and then to supervise and coordinate the agencies that sought to put those plans into operation. These agencies, operating as delegates of CALS, and under subcontracts with it, were to hire attorneys to provide free legal services for indigents. One such delegate, the New York Legal Assistance Corporation (NYLAC), was to be created by the city for the purpose of establishing seven neighborhood law offices. Another, the Harlem Assertion of Rights, Inc. (HAR), was to be organized by a neighborhood group and planned to establish five law offices in Harlem. In conformity with section 280 of the New York Penal Law (recently reenacted as section 495 of the New York Judiciary Law) prohibiting the practice of law by a corporation in the absence of special approval from the proper appellate division, CALS, NYLAC, and HAR submitted applications to the court for the necessary authorization. The court rejected the applications without prejudice to the prompt submission of amended proposals, basing its decision primarily upon the fear that the organizational complexity of the plan and the “lay control” of the corporations would endanger the professional standards of those attorneys involved in the program.