Our Story

CLS is Connecticut’s largest not for profit law firm.

Our mission is to provide access to justice and protect the critical civil legal rights of low-income individuals and families through representation, systemic advocacy, advice, collaboration, and education. We serve low-income families in 122 of the 169 Connecticut communities (our sister agencies serve areas of greater Hartford and greater New Haven). Our service area includes hundreds of thousands of families eligible for our services.

We protect and secure critical civil legal rights for our clients and advance access to justice for all Connecticut residents. We produce optimal individual and community results, and continuously strive to increase the impact and efficiency of our work. Our staff are our greatest asset. They are supported by their work environment and enriched by the individual and collective difference they make.

Our partners, funders, and the communities we serve view us as a trusted partner and recognized leader. Our Board members are active ambassadors for our organization and create access to resources, expertise, and relationships to support our work.

Significant Events in CLS’ History


CLS Responds to National Crisis – Reunites Children with their Families after Illegal Separation

CLS, working with Yale Law School, filed the first case in the country brought by children (rather than their parents) illegally separated from their families at the border to challenge the federal government’s zero tolerance policy. J.S.R. v Sessions and V.F.B v Sessions resulted in release and reunification for two immigrant families who were detained and forcibly separated after they came to the United States seeking asylum.


CLS Celebrates 40th Anniversary

CLS hires ten new staff attorneys and one new legal assistant, the first significant staff expansion in ten years. 


CLS Creates School Based Legal Clinic

CLS receives funding for a unique school based legal clinic, where attorneys partner with local school districts throughout Windham County to help stabilize the families of low-income students who experience truancy.


Sandy Pummels East Coast

Super Storm Sandy struck the East Coast and Mid Atlantic regions of the United States. CLS joined state and social service agencies to help with relief efforts across Connecticut and creates a statewide disaster recovery guide/protocol for low income residents.


CLS Helps Mentally Ill Children

Connecticut Legal Services successfully ends the multi-year settlement enforcement of the W.R. v. DCF, class action filed by CLS to obtain community based services for seriously mentally ill children in state care.


CLS Weathers the Funding Storm

Leaders, staff, clients, and supporters successfully raises new funds and diversifies funding to help CLS through the most challenging aspects of the funding crisis.


CLS Faces New Funding Crisis

Financial crisis ravages the American economy, and CLS’s largest funding source, Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts  (IOLTA), plummets in value. Staff responds to CLS budget cuts by electing to implement staff-wide furlough days in lieu of layoffs.


30 Years Brings Renewed Dedication

CLS enters its fourth decade. Buoyed by solid funding, CLS expands staff, increases services, and celebrates its long history of providing critically needed legal services.

Raymond et al. v. Rowland et al.

Raymond et al. v. Rowland et al. resulted in a class action settlement in which CLS collaborated with other local legal services agencies to file a suit against the Department of Social Services (DSS).  The case involved thousands of disabled low-income individuals who had no access to DSS services because their disabilities made complying with DSS regulations impossible.  In the settlement, DSS agreed to provide approximately $12 million dollars to upgrade state welfare office physical facilities and computer and telephone services, increase staffing, and design policies and procedures to assist low-income individuals with disabilities seek assistance from DSS.  The agency also agreed to improve access for impoverished individuals with disabilities to its cash, medical, and food benefit programs.

Father Panick Village/Pequonnock Village

CLS helped Father Panick Village/Pequonnock Village residents challenge the Bridgeport Housing Authority’s (BHA) demolition of 1,063 low- income housing units, which the BHA pledged to replace but failed to do.  After two decades of litigation, negotiations, and numerous agreement amendments, in 2007, CLS finalized a groundbreaking agreement with the BHA, the city of Bridgeport, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The agreement calls for replacement housing and provides for an innovative $4 million trust fund to stabilize public housing residents.


IOLTA Rules Bring Increase in Funding

Superior Court judges, at the urging of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, implement new fairness rules for IOLTA funding, which produces a substantial increase in revenue.


State Funding Provides Critically Needed Revenue

Governor M. Jodi Rell adds a new funding line in the state budget to support Connecticut’s legal aid programs. CLS adds four attorneys and increases its service capacity by more than 400 cases per year. 


CHRO v. Sullivan Associates

CHRO v. Sullivan Associates established that landlords violate Connecticut housing discrimination law when they refuse to rent to an applicant with a Section 8 subsidy.


Smith v. Wheaton

Smith v. Wheaton, established that a goal of special education is to equip children with the skills they need in order to avoid repeating the same behavior that caused them to be institutionalized in the first place.


CLS Celebrates Platinum Anniversary

CLS celebrates 20 years with a determination to rebuild its staff, expand services, and fill coverage gaps caused by the IOLTA downturn and LSC funding cuts.


LSC Restrictions Lead to Creation of New Service Delivery

Congress attaches new and crippling restrictions to Legal Services Corporation funds.  Threatened with the loss of major funding, legal services agencies redefine their priorities and create Statewide Legal Services to receive LSC funds and conduct centralized intake and referrals. The CLS workforce drops to a low of 38 advocates. 

Harkless v. Rowe

Harkless v. Rowe established that individual General Assistance recipients had constitutionally cognizable property interests in receiving extensions to their state benefits, which only could be extinguished if they were afforded due process of law.


Barannikova v. Town of Greenwich

Barannikova v. Town of Greenwich established that the state statute and DSS regulations requiring that the income of a resident alien’s sponsor be deemed as income for purposes of general assistance, regardless of whether it was actually available, violated the equal protection clause. 


IOLTA Revenues Fall; CLS Regionalizes Representation

IOLTA interest rates decline and shrinking funding forces CLS to undergo staff reductions and other budget cuts.  CLS restructures into a regional service delivery system, allowing all offices to remain open despite losing key advocates and implementing furlough days for remaining staff. 

Marek V. Rowe

Marek v. Rowe established standards to protect a person’s access to benefits in situations where those benefits recipients took certain actions in reliance on the incorrect advice of their welfare worker.

Edgecomb v. the Housing Authority of the Town of Vernon

Edgecomb v. the Housing Authority of the Town of Vernon established that Section 8 participants threatened with termination of Section 8 assistance have due process rights that must be considered in the termination process.  The court also noted the rules for the types of pre-termination notices, hearing procedures, and contents of the hearing decision that the law requires.


Lawyers Raise Funds for CLS

CLS kicks off its first Campaign for Justice to raise funds from private attorneys to help Support CLS’ mission.


CLS Expands for the First Time in Ten Years

After a decade of retrenchment, CLS expands its services and adds 14 attorneys, one paralegal, and six secretaries to the CLS ranks.  CLS also collaborates with other legal services programs to launch the AIDS Legal Network of Connecticut


IOLTA Funding Becomes Mandatory

The state legislature passes a bill to make IOLTA contributions mandatory.  CLS begins plans to rebuild after long-time retrenchment.

Kier v. Sullivan

Kier v. Sullivan established that the Social Security Administration’s standards used to evaluate a widow’s eligibility for disability benefits were overly strict and conflicted with federal law.  Since 1989, the Court of Appeals for the First and Ninth Circuits and several federal district courts have followed the reasoning in Kier.

Taylor v. Department of Social Services

Taylor v. Department of Social Services established that state agencies are required to provide home care services to the elderly in the integrated setting most appropriate to the individual.


Benavides v. Benavides

Benavides v. Benavides established that CLS and other legal services program are entitled to attorneys’ fees  on the same basis as that used for private attorneys.


NAACP of Norwalk v. City of Norwalk

NAACP of Norwalk v. City of Norwalk ensured that public housing developments be placed in non-concentrated neighborhoods, established a Fair Housing Commission and a full-time fair housing officer position, and changed zoning regulations so as not to discourage development of affordable housing in the city.


Lavertue v. Niman

Lavertue v. Niman established the importance of correct parental identification and the significant consequences of requiring a man to support a child for 18 years and possibly incarcerating a man who fails to fulfill this obligation.  The Court held that indigent defendants in state-supported paternity actions have a state and federal constitutional right to court-appointed counsel at the state’s expense.


CLS Shrinks As a Result of Federal Budget Cuts

In response to Reagan-era budget cuts, CLS closes several offices and reduces staff by 30 percent.  CLS also redirects its focus to three fundamental areas of need: protection of clients’ essential rights to income, shelter, and health.


CLS Identifies Areas of Practice

CLS establishes client priorities and implements five task forces—income rights, elderly and disabled rights, housing, civil rights, and state law (cases filed in state court).

CLS Starts LAMP Program

CLS creates the Legal Assistance to Medicare Patients program (LAMP) to help individual claimants appeal the denial or premature termination of Medicare benefits.  LAMP eventually becomes a separate organization serving low-income elders.

Stuart v. Nappi

Stuart v. Nappi was the first reported decision of federal special education laws holding that a mentally disabled child could not be excluded from school before given the opportunity to exhaust due process remedies-essentially holding that school districts could not use expulsion to contravene special education laws.


CLS Incorporates

Fairfield County Legal Services, Legacy, the Legal Aid Board of New Britain, the Middlesex County Legal Assistance Association, the Tolland-Windham Legal Assistance Program, and Waterbury Legal Aid and Reference Services incorporate into what is now Connecticut Legal Services.