Mark Budnitz on the History of the National Consumer Law Center

Mark Elliott Budnitz of Georgia State has written The National Consumer Law Center From Its Birth to 2013.  Here is the abstract:

The article describes, analyzes and evaluates the role played by the National Consumer Law Center, a public interest law firm dedicated to promoting the legal rights of low income consumers, in the development of consumer protection law. It does this by first providing a brief summary of the origins of federal funding of legal services through the Office of Economic Opportunity, an agency established by Congress to fight the “War on Poverty.” The article then describes the circumstances surrounding the initial funding of NCLC by OEO. Most of the paper consists of a detailed exposition of NCLC’s work product from 1969 to 2013. That work involved significant activities on both the federal and state levels. It included litigation, legislation and administrative agency advocacy. There were major victories as well as many setbacks. The paper highlights NCLC’s role in the development of the law under the Truth-in-Lending Act as well as NCLC’s efforts to ameliorate the disastrous effect of the Great Recession on low income home ownership. The paper provides details on NCLC’s joint projects with other consumer and civil rights organizations. The paper also notes the crucial role played by NCLC’s publications, training and conferences in establishing a national consumer lawyer bar. The article concludes with an examination of the challenges NCLC faces due to changes in the marketplace caused by technology.

In addition to relating NCLC’s substantive accomplishments, the paper discusses the significance of non-substantive developments. The article explores the political battle that resulted in the Legal Services Corporation’s termination of all future funding for NCLC and how NCLC successfully responded to that existential crisis by diversifying its funding sources. Having a satellite office in Washington, DC enabled NCLC to substantially increase its participation in the federal venue. Purchasing its own building in Boston provided it with a measure of stability.

The article is a case study of how a non-profit legal services organization can endure and significantly influence the law despite major adversity. It did this by being flexible, adapting to changed circumstances and adopting an entrepreneurial spirit while remaining faithful to its mission.

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