Legal Services: Remembering the Past 50 Years, and Looking to the Future

Legal Services

By Evian L. White

Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. is the largest provider of civil legal services for the poor in Miami- Dade and Monroe counties. Each year, its attorneys provide free legal services which benefit more than 30,000 of the most disenfranchised members of our community who have nowhere else to turn for help in their housing, veterans’ benefits, special education, tax, employment and consumer cases. Legal Services attorneys recover almost $1.5 million annually for clients.

This powerhouse nonprofit law firm has humble roots to which it owes its success. Founded in 1966 as part of President Johnson’s war on poverty, Legal Services was born as a strategy to address the national poverty rate, which was 19 percent at the time. Among the key players in the formational years of Legal Services are well respected South Florida attorneys Elizabeth Du Fresne, Rene Murai, Bob Parks, Bruce Rogow and H.T. Smith. By serving as attorneys and board members, each of these individuals played a major role in laying the foundation for the important community institution that Legal Services is today.

Legal Services will kick off a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary with 50 Years, 50 Voices Oct. 1, 2015, in collaboration with HistoryMiami 11th Judicial Court Historical Society, honoring 50 community leaders who have shaped the history of Legal Services and Miami. Wilson Sayre, WLRN-Miami news reporter, will moderate a panel discussion with Legal Services alumni Du Fresne, Murai, Parks, Rogow and Smith along with Legal Services advocacy directors, Jeffrey Hearne and Monica Vigues-Pitan. “Legal Services has been an agent of change in our community for the past 50 years,” says Marcia K. Cypen, executive director and 40-year veteran of Legal Services. “It is important that as a community we reflect on how Legal Services has changed the legal landscape, as well as on the challenges we will face in the next 50 years.”

The October event, also kicks off the opening of the 50 Years, 50 Voices exhibit at HistoryMiami, which features photographs of the most influential Legal Services figures, taken by DASH students, and the launching of the “50 Years, 50 Voices” book.


Be sure to attend the Oct. 1 event at HistoryMiami, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami, FL 33130. From 6-7 p.m., the event will begin with the panel discussion and the presentation of the honorees. Afterward, the exhibit will be unveiled with a cocktail reception. For sponsorship opportunities, please contact Marcia Rabinowitz at mrabinowitz@legalservicesmiami.org.