To Establish Justice for All
The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States [3 volumes]
by Earl Johnson Jr.
November 2013, 1010pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
3 volumes, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-35706-0
$204, £157, 178€, A280
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eBook Available: 978-0-313-35707-7
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Civil legal aid in the U.S. has been controversial for more than 130 years.

For over a century, many have struggled to turn the Constitution's prime goal 'to establish Justice' into reality for Americans who cannot afford lawyers through civil legal aid. This book explains how and why.

American statesman Sargent Shriver called the Legal Services Program the “most important” of all the War on Poverty programs he started; American Bar Association president Edward Kuhn said its creation was the most important development in the history of the legal profession. Earl Johnson Jr., a former director of the War on Poverty’s Legal Services Program, provides a vivid account of the entire history of civil legal aid from its inception in 1876 to the current day. The first to capture the full story of the dramatic, ongoing struggle to bring equal justice to those unable to afford a lawyer, this monumental three-volume work covers the personalities and events leading to a national legal aid movement—and decades later, the federal government’s entry into the field, and its creation of a unique institution, an independent Legal Services Corporation, to run the program. The narrative also covers the landmark court victories the attorneys won and the political controversies those cases generated, along with the heated congressional battles over the shape and survival of the Legal Services Corporation. In the final chapters, the author assesses the current state of civil legal aid and its future prospects in the United States.


  • Provides a unique resource for law students enrolled in courses on poverty law, professional responsibility, access to justice, and legal history, as well as for professors teaching these subjects
  • Enables readers to see how changes in the larger society have brought new challenges to legal aid institutions—or old challenges in new guises
  • Presents a comprehensive, informed overview of civil legal aid written from the perspective of a former professor of law, director of the War on Poverty's legal services program, and appellate judge
  • Explores the unusual partnership between a governmental program funding civil legal aid lawyers and an outside professional organization dominated by wealthy corporate lawyers, the American Bar Association (ABA), and how the ABA used its political influence and advocacy to protect lawyers serving the poor when they faced opposition in Congress or the White House
  • Documents the remarkable impact of legal services lawyers during the War on Poverty era, including the more than 60 cases they won in the United States Supreme Court in just a 7-year span
  • Describes how those supporting legal services in some states managed to develop new innovative sources of funding, such as interest earned on lawyers' trust accounts, when federal revenues for civil legal aid dropped during the 1980s and 1990s
  • Provides a revealing case study for those interested in the War on Poverty or other social programs helping the poor
Earl Johnson Jr., JD, LLM, is a retired Justice of the California Court of Appeal, a former professor of law at the University of Southern California, and a former director of the Office of Economic Opportunity's Legal Services Program. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Southern California Law School. His published works include Toward Equal Justice: A Comparative Study of Legal Aid in Modern Societies and Justice and Reform: The Formative Years of America's Legal Services Program. Johnson holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Chicago and a master of laws from Northwestern University.


"Johnson is the perfect author for this three-volume set on the history of civil legal aid from its beginnings in 1876 to today. This is a truly comprehensive and exhaustive work. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice, September 1, 2014

"To Establish Justice for All, from the definitive historian of the American legal aid movement, is essential reading for anyone who has ever worked in a legal aid program or served on a board of directors. Each chapter is filled with finely detailed accounts of the key players and moments that have led to today's system of civil justice. Newer advocates, in particular, can gain a rich understanding of the history of the critical movement of which they are a part."—Don Saunders, Vice President, Civil Legal Services, National Legal Aid and Defender Association

"Earl Johnson, Jr., who in 1966 became the director of OEO-Legal Services as a 33-year-old attorney, provides the definitive history of civil legal aid in the United States from 1876 to present. It is a story told with fascinating biographical detail about such figures as Lewis Powell, Sargent Shriver, Richard Nixon, Archibald Cox, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Ronald Reagan, Clinton Bamberger, Gary Bellow, Jean Charn, and Hillary Rodham, among others. From the early era of charity-supported legal aid in the late 19th century, to the progressive idealism of Reginald Heber Smith, to a brief period of impact litigation from 1968–1974, to the political compromises that led to the creation of the Legal Services Corporation, this multi-volume effort chronicles the troubled efforts to provide civil justice for all Americans. The book reveals that despite American rhetoric about its commitment to equal justice, the United States falls far short in providing basic representation in civil matters compared to other advanced western democracies. Johnson has written a book that will fascinate and challenge all American lawyers." —Robert L. Nelson, MacCrate Research Chair in the Legal Profession; Director, American Bar Foundation; and Professor of Sociology and Law, Northwestern University

"This is the definitive history of civil legal aid in the United States. It is comprehensive and beautifully written. It is a story of the elusive quest to ensure that rich and poor alike have access to our legal system. It is a must-read for all who care about justice in this country."—Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law

"This is a magnificent work. Johnson traces not just the history of an institution (Legal Aid), but also of an idea—the right to counsel in civil cases. Beginning in the 19th century with the struggles of German immigrants and reaching across the length and breadth of 20th-century America and beyond, Johnson traces the search for fairness and the determination of its opponents. The fulfillment of this nation's commitment to a right to counsel remains incomplete, but Johnson's three illuminating, readable, and powerful volumes may help expedite the day when those rights are fully secured. This is an essential addition to every law library and important reading for those who care about the nation's legal history." —Jim Newton, Author of Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made
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