Our History

50+ Years of Civil Legal Assistance

Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLS) was established in 1966 as a non-profit, public interest law firm to provide civil legal assistance to poor and vulnerable residents of Allegheny (and later) Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties.

Fourteen visionary leaders established Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLS) in 1966, setting out on a path of equal access to justice for all residents of our region. For the past 50 years, NLS has traveled down the road, never faltering even as conditions grew more challenging. Instead, NLS grew more resourceful, evolving and changing with the times and economic conditions.

We began our journey in the company of many others in the 1960’s helping to build the Great Society. We survived the undoing of that national vision to emerge today as a more independent, innovative organization. Credit for NLS’s remarkable longevity goes to the prompt course corrections made throughout our history by decisive leadership. As government support for civil legal aid dwindled, NLS turned to the private bar, launching an annual appeal. We also vigorously recruited volunteer attorneys to serve clients on a pro bono basis. We found ways to do more with fewer resources, such as installing a toll-free Helpline to quickly serve those who could benefit from service and advice by phone. We purchased our central office building and channeled the monthly savings into client service. We solicited new partners and initiated innovative programs, such as our Medical-Legal Collaborative for Patients, Veterans Justice Project and Legal Literacy community outreach effort, as ways of extending our reach and expanding our capabilities.

Above all, Neighborhood Legal Services greeted each challenge with a redoubled commitment to endure. And endure we have. The staying power of the organization is mirrored in the longevity of our staff – who average over 25 years on the job – and the tenacity of our leadership, who include just five Executive Directors over our 50-year history. We also take special pride in NLS’s role as an incubator for scores of wise and talented jurists who moved on from this public interest law firm to serve the statewide justice community and beyond.

From the plateau of our golden anniversary, we note both the distance NLS has traveled and the many miles still to go. Since 1966, NLS has assisted more than 1.1 million families and individuals in dire civil legal circumstances; yet we are mindful that demand.

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