Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


School of Urban Planning and Regional Studies

Major Professor

Hirsch, Arnold R.; Whelan, Robert K.

Second Advisor

Gladstone, David

Third Advisor

Gunter, Valerie


During the past century, lawyers in New Orleans created a number of organizations to provide legal services for the poor, as lawyers did throughout the country. Most of those organizations provided routine service directly to individual clients and received quiet acceptance within the city and the state. However, more aggressive lawyers in other legal services offices engaged in law reform or challenged politically powerful interests. These offices found themselves embroiled in controversy and facing impediments that were placed in the way of their work. This dissertation introduces nonprofit legal services in New Orleans, but focuses on and investigates the experiences of four organizations – the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, and the Advocacy Center – that were involved in controversies. This investigation differs from most prior studies of legal assistance in several ways. First, it discusses a variety of local legal service organizations rather than concentrating on the legal aid movement of the first half of the twentieth century, or the later Legal Services Program and its successor Legal Services Corporation. Secondly, it provides detailed discussion of several New Orleans legal services, which had previously been limited to scrutiny of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. Most importantly, it goes beyond description to provide causal explanation for the controversies by reference to social structure, and the social mechanisms and social processes at work. The dissertation presents access to law by the poor as being a form of "largesse" or charity or gift, which is granted when it is convenient for the powerful, but withheld when it is inconvenient for the powerful. From this perspective, the controversies resulted from the opposing interests of the two major social classes in modern capitalist society, with the politically powerful objecting to certain legal victories or gains achieved by the poor. In addition to the New Orleans cases, the dissertation refers to other legal services offices throughout the country that experienced similar problems. This demonstrates that the underlying issues are not limited to the city of New Orleans or the state of Louisiana, but are national in scope.


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.