Chief Justice Roberts, Attorney General Garland and Author John Grisham Join Legal Aid Leaders to Mark 50th Anniversary of LSC

Carl Rauscher      
Director of Communications and Media Relations      


WASHINGTON– United States Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Attorney General Merrick Garland and best-selling author and lawyer John Grisham joined leaders from 130 organizations funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and other advocates for access to justice at a forum and gala Tuesday celebrating LSC’s 50th Anniversary.   

The forum and dinner at the Omni Shoreham brought together the nation’s foremost justice leaders, who spoke of their belief in the rule of law, but also underscored that the American ideal of equal justice under the law has not yet been realized for low-income Americans.  

The Chief Justice addressed the audience of 550 gala attendees from across legal, business, government, tech and other industries. He spoke of the significance of the 14th amendment which grants equal protection under the law.  

“For more than a century and a half, we as Americans have been challenged to give meaning and effect to the aspiration of equality under law. The road has been uneven and we have not always agreed on what constitutes equality under law, but two things are clear,” said Roberts. “Equality under law remains a goal rather than a complete accomplishment, and equality under law requires lawyers. That is of course where the Legal Services Corporation comes in.” 

“Many of those in need of help do not know any lawyers, and certainly a sizable segment of our society cannot afford a lawyer, anyway,” he continued. “LSC grantees help fill that void, assisting their clients as they navigate the sometimes complex procedural and substantive requirements of our justice system.” 

The Attorney General, who was introduced by Director of the Office for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice Rachel Rossi, emphasized the urgency of improving access to justice.  

 “We gather at a time when protecting the rule of law is as urgent as it has ever been. Public faith in the rule of law depends in no small part on public faith that our system will ensure equal justice under law—and that faith in turn depends on there being equal access to justice,” said Garland.  

 “Equal access to justice in turn depends on the work and expertise of LSC and its grantees—the thousands of professionals who do the difficult and demanding work of providing legal services to those in need,” Garland continued. “Too many Americans still cannot afford legal services, and for too many Americans, not being able to afford a lawyer means the difference between providing for their families or losing their jobs, having a roof over their head or losing their home, putting food on the table or going hungry.”  

Each year, LSC distributes federal funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices. These organizations provide civil legal services in every U.S. state and territory. However, resources are inadequate to meet most legal needs experienced by low-income Americans. LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap report captured the severity of this justice gap, finding that low-income Americans received no or insufficient legal help for 92% of their civil legal problems. LSC-funded legal aid programs must turn away half of eligible requests for legal assistance because of a lack of sufficient resources.  

 At the gala, American Bar Association President Mary Smith pointed to this data as evidence that, “for large swaths of our population, the system simply is not working.”  

 “For decades, the American Bar Association has advocated for legal services funding as the embodiment of the federal government’s role in securing the core American value of equal justice under law,” Smith continued.  

 In 2021, for the first time, housing cases became the biggest area of client services for LSC-funded legal aid providers—a trend that has continued. LSC’s Emerging Leaders Council Co-Chair Ransom Wydner took the gala stage to share his personal story of a childhood impacted by evictions and persistent housing insecurity. He was two years old when his family was first evicted for nonpayment.  

 “My parents should have paid the rent or worked with our landlord to avoid eviction, and they didn’t. But there were four kids under that roof,” said Wydner. “My siblings and I had nothing to do with our parents’ choices, but now we were all homeless…Families without good options end up in bad situations, and it can feel impossible to get out.”  

 “From now on when you hear the word eviction, I hope the first thing you think about is a little kid, because that’s who’s impacted by evictions more than anyone else: children under five years old,” continued Wydner.   

In a Tuesday afternoon session, John Grisham sat down for a conversation about his early career as a lawyer in Mississippi and how it influenced his current advocacy and philanthropy.  In his first year practicing law, he was approached by people living in a nearby trailer park who were being wrongfully evicted and had no money to pay an attorney. Having few other clients to speak of, Grisham took the case pro bono, and easily got the evictions thrown out. He knows that without representation, the outcome would likely have been very different.  

 “When they realized that these poor people had a lawyer, everything changed,” said Grisham. “Low-income people get run over all the time, unless they show up with a lawyer—and I realized the power of a law license at that moment.”  

 On Monday, former United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared at an event for the executive directors and board chairs of LSC-funded legal aid organizations. Clinton, who served as chair of LSC’s board from 1978 until 1981, was interviewed by former LSC Board Chair Douglas Eakeley. Clinton gave insight into her inspiring history in legal aid, including creating the first ever legal aid program in Arkansas. She spoke fondly of her time at LSC saying that the work was “exciting, purposeful and impactful,” and that she was honored to be a part of a bipartisan movement full of people “passionate about providing legal access.”  

During the two-day event, multiple clients who have greatly benefitted from legal aid services shared their experiences with attendees. Chloe Brown told the story of how Neighborhood Legal Services in Pittsburgh saved her and her twin brother, who were subjected to abuse from their biological father during court-ordered weekend visitation for years as young children. The legal aid attorney secured a Protection from Abuse Order that she credits with saving their lives.  

 Dionne Dowdy-Lacey told the audience how Community Legal Aid (CLA) in Ohio enabled her to rebuild her life after acquiring a criminal record. Her legal aid attorney helped her with expungement services, driver’s license restoration and prevented bank foreclosure on her home. Now Dowdy-Lacey is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit United Returning Citizens, which partnered with CLA to offer an expungement clinic. The clinic allowed 152 Ohioans to clear their records, leading to improved access to career opportunities and housing.  

 Another former client, Melanie Andrews, also received expungement services from her local legal aid program, Oklahoma Indian Legal Services (OILS). She now sits on the Board of OILS as a client representative, and she says that she wants to teach people how important it is to ask for help, especially youth.  

 Also during Tuesday’s daytime forum, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5), co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus, addressed the audience about the importance of communicating the value of legal aid work to members of Congress and other elected officials.   

“I think it’s really critical that [members of Congress] hear about the importance of legal aid, not just to individual clients and their constituents, but also its importance to our communities and to the actual functioning of a civil society,” said Scanlon.  

 LSC Board Chair John Levi stressed the importance of directing resources to legal aid in order to close the persistent and growing justice gap that exists for low-income Americans.   

“I have no doubt that LSC’s founders would be so very proud of the work of our grantees, and the extraordinary network we have built across the country, but I think at the same time they would also be dismayed at the lack of appropriate funding,” said Levi. “Funding equal access to justice is not an act of charity—rather, it is an investment in the stability of the American democracy and the rule of law.” 

 LSC received flat funding of $560 million in FY 2024, after receiving a $71 million increase in FY 2023. To fully resolve the legal problems of low-income Americans who contact LSC grantees for assistance, LSC requested an appropriation of $1.8 billion for FY 2025.  

 LSC leadership and thirteen of its grantee executive directors met White House Counsel Ed Siskel Wednesday at the White House for a Roundtable on LSC’s 50th Anniversary. 

 Footage from the livestreams of the session featuring Levi’s full remarks and the conversation with Grisham is available here. The forum featuring Representative Scanlon, a panel hosted by U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs Joe Kennedy, client stories, a history of LSC presented by LSC President Emeritus Jim Sandman, video remarks from Representative Tom Emmer (MN-6), and the reading of a letter from President Barack Obama is available here. The gala was not livestreamed; more information on speakers is available here.  

Photographs of speakers are available upon request. Email

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974. For 50 years, LSC has provided financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.