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In their 1970s heyday, legal services lawyers would have cringed at the notion of spending scarce funds allocated to help the poor on an eye-catching magazine that sings their own praises. But today’s Legal Services Corp. — even more strapped for cash — is hoping that an investment in public relations will pay off. The free glossy quarterly LSC’s Equal Justice Magazine is aimed, not surprisingly, at the influential members of Congress upon whom the government-created nonprofit depends for its funding. It’s also being sent to the top 250 law firms, which provide valuable pro bono services to LSC grantees. And it will be distributed to legal services offices around the United States — an attempt to boost the morale of its notoriously underpaid lawyers. The publication is predictably upbeat. In addition to the cover story in its premier issue about “The Guardian,” the new television show about a corporate lawyer turned children’s advocate, there’s an editorial praising President George Bush for not cutting LSC’s funding in his proposed budget, a feature on the pro bono work of an attorney from Boston’s Hill & Barlow, a profile lauding U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida (a former Miami legal services lawyer) and an article about an experiment that uses computers to provide legal services in Orange County, Calif. “It’s our attempt to create a high-profile vehicle for the public, lawmakers and members of the court to stay informed about the important work that legal services is doing,” says Eric Kleiman, LSC’s press secretary and editor of the new magazine. “Part of our congressional mandate is to educate the public and Congress about how federal and private dollars are being spent on low-income people seeking access to the justice system.” But is putting out a colorful magazine that praises LSC supporters what Congress had in mind? “It looks more like a lobbying effort than a way to provide legal resources for poor people,” says Kenneth Boehm, chairman of the Falls Church, Va.-based National Legal and Policy Center and a longtime legal services critic. “It’s a question of where you best spend your resources. Their mission is to help the poor. They’re not supposed to stray from that.” Still, it’s not a big-budget item. LSC spent less than $15,000 of its annual $329.3 million budget to print and distribute 6,000 copies of the premier issue. Kleiman hopes to attract advertising and print 10,000 copies for the next run. It’s not hard to understand why LSC feels the need to promote itself. Its last few years have been rough going. Although a 1994 American Bar Association study found that 80 percent of poor people don’t get a lawyer when they have a civil legal problem, Congress in 1996 threatened to eliminate LSC, then slashed its funding by 30 percent and enacted a slew of restrictions. Among other things, legal services lawyers were prohibited from bringing class actions, representing prisoners and many immigrants, lobbying, and receiving attorney fees. Although the Supreme Court last year overturned the ban on legal challenges to welfare reform, the rest remain in effect. As a result, the LSC has been cowed into silence. If you can’t beat the law, you may as well get on its good side — or, as Kleiman puts it, be “a partner with Congress.” Indeed, the board and its staff defended the restrictions on legal services lawyers all the way up to the Supreme Court, a move that had many legal services supporters scratching their heads. LSC’s new magazine works in the same vein. By highlighting the everyday good work of legal services lawyers and those who back them, it avoids controversy. “Using this as a way to upset Congress doesn’t seem like a very prudent use of our resources,” says Kleiman. In hard times, discretion — and flattery — may well be the better part of valor.

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