Our Mission and History


“To achieve equal justice for poor people, to work with clients to promote social justice,
and to address the effects and root causes of poverty.”

This mission drives our work.  It means that:

  • We work to increase access to the courts.
  • We advocate for fairness in the application of law.
  • Client perspectives inform our advocacy and priorities.
  • We embrace a broad view of lawyering.
  • We make things better while practicing preventative law.

Our lawyers provide:

  • Core essential representation on legal problems related to people’s ability to meet their basic human needs.
  • Community education and empowerment to help people better help themselves.
  • Advocacy to improve systems that underlie our clients’ problems and the barriers to their success. 


From 1914 to 1958, legal services for the poor in Hartford were provided through an effort begun by the Bar Association and continued through a part-time attorney attached to the Hartford Corporation Counsel’s Office. But by 1957, the need had grown too big to be met in this same way, and on May 1, 1958, GHLA was incorporated “to secure justice for and to protect the rights of the needy residents of Hartford County.” 

For over 50 years, we have given advice in individual legal matters, successfully represented clients in Connecticut and federal courts, achieved policy and systemic reforms, and litigated significant impact and class action cases.

1978: CARC v. Thorne filed-- Settled in 1984, GHLA won a significant victory for people with developmental disabilities

  • Closed Mansfield Training School
  • Required State to establish community based homes, school & work programs

1979: Among the first in the country, the Domestic Violence Unit is established

1984: GHLA was the central force behind the creation of the South Park Inn shelter for the homeless

1988: Ginsberg v. Walters-- required the State to forward child support payments it collected to 26,000 former welfare recipients

1996: Doe v. Marselle: protected the privacy of people with HIV

1997: GHLA acquired some of the funding and staff of Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS), bringing together the legal aid offices that serve low-income Hartford County residents.  NLS had a long successful history of advocating on behalf of low-income people, including litigating Shapiro v. Thompson (1969), which held unconstitutional (as a violation of the right to travel) states’ one year residency requirements on the right to receive welfare benefits; and Serrano v. Gaitor (1981), a class action by Hartford residents displaced by code enforcement who were denied relocation assistance. A class was certified and a consent decree was entered in court in 1984.  A Motion for Contempt was granted in 2014 for Hartford’s failure to comply with the consent decree, and litigation is on-going.

1997: Pitt v. Hartford Housing Authority-- federal class action brought to enforce displaced tenants’ mobility rights to relocate after demolition of public housing project

2000: Carr v. Wilson-Coker filed; settled in 2008, fundamentally restructuring the Medicaid dental program to provide adequate preventative and treatment care to children

2003: Immigrants Legal Needs Initiative began:

  • increased access to legal remedies
  • expanded GHLA’s practice to battered immigrants seeking protection under federal Violence Against Women Act

2004: Rabin v. Wilson-Coker filed:  ensured that tens of thousands of working adults continued to receive transitional Medicaid benefits

2005: Rodriquez v. Ancona affirmed that a tenant has a right to adequate damages after illegal entry by the landlord

          Correa v. Ward reaffirmed a landlord cannot evict a tenant in retaliation for reporting housing code violations 

2007: Raymond v. Rowland:  required the state to accommodate people with disabilities who seek services or apply for benefits

2012: Education Initiative began, to protect the educational opportunities of students whose right to a quality, appropriate education is jeopardized by inappropriate, excessive and racially disproportionate discipline, suspensions or expulsions

          Briggs v. Bremby filed, to correct delays in processing applications for food stamps

2014: Domestic Violence Advocacy: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices book co-authored by GHLA’s deputy director

  • refines the victim-defined approach to advocacy
  • nationally recognized as a “best practice”