Community activism lawyering is model of lawyering that strives to innovatively confront access and equity issues by challenging attorneys to explore beyond traditional law conventions for strategies, practices, and goals with which to serve, and more importantly empower, disadvantaged communities. It is based on collaborations—between lawyers and activists, law and social justice—with the potential to produce greater, empowered, and more durable impact than lawyers or activists alone can achieve. These collaborations are essential to realizing access to justice through a cost-effective and efficacious process. CALA uses this model to simultaneously bring legal services to those clients overlooked or rejected by other organizations, in locations geographically convenient to them and support grassroots activism.
- Massive cuts in funding for legal services
- The access to justice for vulnerable communities
- The disjuncture between the legal process and community engagement
As various factors have led to the centralization of legal services in downtown Chicago—and in several other large cities across the country, those with the greatest need, living overwhelmingly elsewhere, become the ones least able to access justice. The harsh reality of centralization, particularly in racially segregated Chicago, is that 9-5 downtown offices mean many communities will be underserved, not only because the offices are inaccessible geographically but also attorneys risk losing those crucial connections with the circumstances, the lives, of those they are serving.
CALA creates legal clinics, coordinated and operated in partnership with community organizations serving disadvantaged populations under accessing/served by current legal services providers. These clinics are rooted in the distinct communities that they serve; guided by and responsive to the communities’ needs.
Community ACTIVISM Support
Poverty will not be stopped by people who are not poor…The lawyer who wants to serve poor people must put his skills to the task of helping poor people organize themselves.
In addition to serving individual members with their legal needs, the CALA legal clinics simultaneously serve, directly and through its legal networks, the partner organizations' advocacy, organizing, and other activism work, including research, legal education, and technical assistance.
The Public Welfare Foundation this year reported that, in the past decade, legal aid funding has dropped by 60%, even as the number of people living in poverty has increased. Legal services organizations have sought to address these cuts through a variety of methods, commonly centralization, staff reduction, and practice area specializations.
CALA legal clinics present an alternative approach by both eliminating nearly all need for expensive real estate by using free, existing space and staffing and administrative support provided by community organizations. Not only does this ensure that the legal clinics are within the communities they serve—accessible and familiar—but it also creates a sense of ownership and investment for the community organization and their members/clients.