Gershon M. "Gary" Ratner Papers

Identifier: NEJL-051

Scope and Contents

The Gershon “Gary” M. Ratner collection is arranged into seven series: Greater Boston Legal Services and Boston Legal Assistance Project records; National Veterans Legal Services Program; Bar associations; Housing and Urban Development files; Harvard Law School files, Education files, and Conferences.

It includes material from Ratner's 1968-1979 tenure with the Boston Legal Assistance Project, and then Greater Boston Legal Services, where he worked as Staff Attorney, Senior Attorney, and then Associate Director for Litigation, and materials related to Ratner's 1990-1996 tenure as General Counsel and Director of Litigation with the National Veterans Legal Services Project (NVLSP). A bulk of the cases represented involve the exposure to Agent Orange. The series also includes NVLSP office files and material related to the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals (COVA), material related to the Federal Circuit Bar Association (FCBA); the Boston Bar Association; and the Massachusetts Bar Association, as well as material related to Ratner's tenure as Associate General Counsel for Litigation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It includes case material, office files, and Senior Executive Service appraisals. In addition, it includes material related to Ratner's law school career at Harvard. It includes papers related to his involvement with the Community Legal Assistance Office (CLAO), the Conference on Law and Poverty, his internship with California Rural Legal Assistance in the summer of 1967 and other activities and organizations, and material related to Ratner's article, "A New Legal Duty for Urban Schools: Effective Education in Basic Skills," published in the Texas Law Review in 1985. Included are drafts, research material, assessments from various school districts, and correspondence, newspaper articles from the New York Times “Week in Review,” Philadelphia Inquirer and other reactions around the country to the article. Also in this series are topical files related to Ratner's work with Effective Schools and articles.

The collection also includes a vertical file with Gary Ratner’s resumes, including a complete list of his publications, as well as a printout from a 2008 email from David Isbell, Esq. with detailed ethical guidelines for donations of legal papers to an archives based on the D.C. Bar ethics rules.


  • 1965 - 1996



All rights reserved by Georgetown University Law Library unless otherwise noted. See also the 2009 deed of gift for the collection.

Biographical / Historical

Gershon “Gary” Ratner graduated from Harvard Law School with a J.D. in 1968, and has devoted his life and career to serving as a legal services and public interest lawyer and advocate, chiefly on behalf of low-income and minority people, and to government service. While attending law school, he worked with Marian E. Wright and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Jackson, Miss. (summer 1966), with the Community Legal Assistance Office, operated by Harvard Law School (from 1966-1968), and with California Rural Legal Assistance (summer of 1967).

In 1968, he was awarded a three-year Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer fellowship, and worked as a staff attorney for the Boston Legal Assistance Project (later Greater Boston Legal Services), where he handled housing, welfare, consumer, and domestic relations and other cases in the neighborhood office, and later as a Senior Attorney, where he was lead counsel in the first case to successfully challenge corporal punishment in an entire public school system (Boston), on the basis of the Constitution, and a precedent-setting First Circuit case seeking to broaden the provision of school lunches in Boston schools. In 1973, Ratner became the Associate Director for Litigation for Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), where he led the litigative, legislative, and administrative law reform work of the large office, and handled high-impact class-actions in federal and state, trial and appellate courts, helping to achieve many precedent-setting decisions in the areas of public housing, welfare/Medicaid, and racial discrimination in public and government-funded employment. In conjunction with his law reform work with GBLS, Ratner developed outreach and education campaigns helping to ensure media coverage about the respective cases, while informing the public about the legal rights of people marginalized by poverty and unequal access to resources.

In 1979, Ratner was hired by Secretary Joseph Califano to become the Deputy Executive Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where he was the Secretary’s chief policy analyst responsible for Social Security, welfare, education, civil rights, and refugee programs. From 1980-1990, he served as Associate General Counsel for Litigation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was responsible for defending the most significant and complex lawsuits against the government agency, while overseeing a large professional staff. He also served as HUD’s principal liaison to the Department of Justice, and was HUD’s lead attorney in its largest public housing desegregation case. In 1985, he published an influential article in the Texas Law Review, arguing that public schools have the legal duty to effectively educate all students in basic skills, which was then covered as the lead education story in the NYT “Week in Review.”

In 1990, he became General Counsel and Director of Litigation for the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), serving as counsel for plaintiffs and amici curiae, representing individuals, classes of veterans, and The American Legion, in nationally precedent-setting suits seeking to vindicate rights to disability and other benefits for veterans, including those related to Agent Orange exposure.

1n 1997, Ratner founded the advocacy organization: “Citizens for Effective Schools,” which he continues to lead. A 1979 editorial by the Boston Globe characterized Ratner as “one of Boston’s prized lawyers…few people in or out of the legal community have had more impact on city and state government than Ratner over the past decade.” (BG, April 12, 1979). Ratner received many awards and recognitions, including the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive in 1986, awarded by the President of the U.S. for sustained excellence as attorney and having developed one of the best law offices in the federal government; the Senior Executive Service Performance Awards for superior legal and managerial work, and the nomination for the Justice Tom C. Clark Award for outstanding career attorney in the federal government in DC. Ratner has a long record of professional service, and served on Boards of Directors of many public interest organizations, including the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Inc., of which he was the lead founder.

Ratner’s academic publications include: “”Inter-neighborhood Denials of Equal Protection in the Provision of Municipal Services,” Harvard Civil Rights—Civil Liberties Law Review 4:1 (1968) -- (written as his third-year paper for Professor Archibald Cox’s constitutional law seminar); and: “A New Legal Duty for Urban Public Schools: Effective Education in Basic Skills," 63 Tex L. Rev. 777 (1985). A complete C.V., including list of publications, is included in the Gary Ratner papers.


28.8 linear feet (72 boxes.)

Language of Materials



Rights: See also 2009 NEJL Deed of Gift.

Finding Aid for the Gershon M. "Gary" Ratner Papers (Coll. 51)
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the National Equal Justice Library Repository

Georgetown University Law Library
111 G. Street NW
Washington D.C. 20001