Updated: 5:35 p.m.
The Legal Services Corp.’s search for a new president is underway. Lawyers interested in the position have until Oct. 15 to submit their applications.
LSC is a nonprofit organization set up by Congress that distributes grants to legal service providers who represent low-income clients across the country. With an annual appropriation of approximately $420 million, LSC funds 136 legal aid programs in 50 states plus Puerto Rico, Guam, Micronesia and the Virgin Islands.
The president acts as LSC’s chief executive officer, managing its day-to-day affairs and approving all grants.
LSC’s previous president, Helaine Barnett, retired at the end of 2009 after six years in the job. When she stepped down, Barnett was the longest-serving president in LSC’s 36-year history. Victor Fortuno, the LSC general counsel, has been serving as the interim president since Jan. 1.
Presidents of the LSC are appointed by the 11-member board of directors, who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The board has hired Heidrick & Struggles, a search firm, to find candidates.
Stephen Barr, LSC spokesman, said there is not a set term for president of the corporation. "In the past, the board and the newly appointed president negotiated the length of time to be served and that agreement takes into account the best interests of the corporation and the new president," Barr said.
Brenda Harding, executive director of the Neighborhood Legal Services Program in Washington, which receives grants from the LSC, said she is following the search “very closely” because “the next president will have a lot to deal with on behalf of legal services providers across the country, especially here in D.C.”
Harding said that she hopes the next LSC president to work with Congress to increase the amount of funding set aside for legal service providers. “Our funding is far below what it was in 1996, when the last cuts were made to LSC’s budget. We never know when we will be hit again,” Harding said. “We need someone who cannot only ensure that our funding stays the same, but that it is increased as well.”
Update: John Levi, a Chicago-based Sidley Austin partner who chairs the LSC's board, said he thinks that there is a "renewed spotlight" on the position of president of the LSC, given the increased demand for legal services at a time when many providers are seeing tightened budgets.
"We're looking for a lawyer who has first-rate management skills. But we're also looking for someone who understands the needs that are out there and isn't afraid of them," Levi said. "We view this is a great opportunity for the LSC."
Levi said that the LSC search committee will likely draw about eight or 12 candidates from the pool of applicants and select the next president from there. He said he and the other board members would like to see a president in place by the beginning of next year.
"This is an extremely important moment for the civil legal assistance world, and we're looking to having a successor to Ms. Barnett in place," Levi said.