History

The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee was founded in 1916 “to do all things necessary for the prevention of injustice.”

The Legal Aid Society has been an innovator in many areas of the law. In 1921, we took the lead in helping establish the first Small Claims Court in the state. In 1923, the Society co-founded what is now the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, a powerful voice for equal justice. In 1939, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Law School, we began one of the nation’s first clinical education placements for law students. In 1943, in conjunction with the Milwaukee Bar Association, the Society inaugurated the state’s first lawyer referral service. In 1950, the Legal Aid Society became Wisconsin’s first all-female law firm. In 1957, well before the United States Supreme Court recognized the right to counsel in criminal cases, the Society began the state’s first public defender program. In 1988, the Society established one of the nation’s first anti-discrimination projects on behalf of persons living with AIDS. In 2005, the Legal Aid Society led Wisconsin’s response by offering legal services to refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Today, we are on the cutting edge in fighting mortgage foreclosure fraud by predatory lenders.

Throughout its history, the Legal Aid Society has been honored for exemplary public service. In 1944, the Army and Navy awarded citations to the Society for representing servicemen and women and their dependents during World War II. Within the past several years, the Legal Aid Society received a Recognition Award from the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee for its work with the homeless; the Benedict Center’s Justice Award for our work on behalf of prisoners and for improving jail conditions; the J.C. Penny Golden Rule Award for our advocacy of abused children; a Distinguished Service Award from the Milwaukee Bar Association for our work on behalf of the poverty community; and another J.C. Penny Golden Rule Award for serving the needs of people with severe disabilities. In 2006, the Society received a special Pro Bono Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin to commemorate 90 years of providing free legal services to an estimated half a million impoverished clients.