The Legal Aid Society of Rochester, N.Y. (LASROC) is one of the oldest Legal Aid Societies in the country. LASROC traces its origins to the formation of the Rochester's Women's Educational and Industrial Union (W.E.I.U.) in 1893. The W.E.I.U., founded in part by Susan B. Anthony, was established to bring together diverse women's groups in Rochester and provide a strong unified force, working to eradicate the many problems facing women of the era.
To facilitate their goals, the W.E.I.U. formed multiple committees, including a Legal Protection Committee dedicated to "…command the social and legal rights of women to public attention... assist in all measures which may be taken to secure the (legal) rights of any who may apply..." Originally, the Legal Protection Committee’s services were provided exclusively to women, and cases included wrongfully withheld wages, improper seizure of property (such as sewing machines), and refusal to deliver goods (such as coal) for which payment had been made.
Into the 20th Century
By 1910, the demand for services of the Legal Protection Committee continued to grow to such an extent that it became necessary to maintain daily office hours and to rent space in a central location in the city. In 1914, services were expanded to include both men and women. Applicants sought relief mainly in family matters, evictions, and small wage claims.
In 1918, the Legal Protection Committee had come to be known as the Legal Aid Bureau. It was incorporated into The Legal Aid Society of Rochester, NY in 1921 and became a charter organization of what was the community chest, later to become the United Way, founded by George Eastman. The first Executive Director was Carolyn Crane and Board Chair was Fannie Bigelow.
In its early days, LASROC was an advocate for change in the legal system promoting pro bono services, and for a period of time, providing public defender services. During this time Emory Brownell served as Director and was fundamental in promoting family law reform, amendments to other New York State laws governing indigent persons, unemployment compensation, and the establishment of Savings Bank Life Insurance. Mr. Brownell eventually moved on to become the Director of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.
Our Work Continues
Throughout its history, The Legal Aid Society of Rochester has provided direct legal services to low and moderate income residents in Greater Rochester & Monroe County. To this day, we continue to advocate for change and increase access to justice for all.