Community Lawyering and Pro Bono Service
Community lawyering refers to the work of a public interest lawyer who works primarily at the intersection of law and organizing and who views her or his work as reflecting the needs and interests of a particular community. It has also been called “cause lawyering” and has been referred to as “integrative lawyering” in some academic writing.
It is a values-based way that public lawyers such as prosecutors can be involved in shifting the legal profession, and it also offers opportunities for pro bono work.
In the 1980s, police departments began to experiment with proactive problem-solving partnerships with communities and prosecutors, and defense lawyers followed suit a few years later. In this community-oriented lawyering model, prosecutors began to evaluate cases differently. Their decisions began to be influenced by the potential to solve neighborhood problems. Working with city agencies, prosecutors became advocates for solving problems like trash-filled lots, nuisance properties, parks without lighting, neighborhoodwide drug problems, and so forth.
Roger Conner wrote one of the first articles on community lawyering in the National Institute of Justice Journal in January 2000. He noted:
The basic unit of work is not just crimes and cases but rather people and places. Beyond the individual drug sale, they look at the drug market. The definition of success is not about winning the case or securing the benefit. The bottom line for the community lawyer is solving problems, increasing neighborhood safety, preventing crime, improving the quality of life, and fostering economic development. The relationship to the community shifts in that the community is not a passive complainant but rather a potential partner. Lawyers are no longer controlled by the community but rather oriented to it, and the community becomes a participant in defining success. Collaboration with other groups is the norm, not working alone. Meetings, public education, sharing.
The tool kit for the community lawyer is large—civil remedies, new forms of action, new organizations (such as community courts), negotiation, and voluntary compliance [are] among . . . these tools. The key question is “What’s happening?” rather than “What happened?” One is trying to assign responsibility for the past while the other is future focused.
Another example is found in the Medical-Legal Partnership where community law meets community medicine:
In this example, doctors identify public health issues and refer them to lawyers who will address them.
In Compton, CA, there is a Community Lawyering program at
Steve Fischbach's work is discussed at:
and Luz Herrera was named one of the ABA Legal Rebels.
Luz Herrera: ‘Low Bono’ Pioneer
PROFILE POSTED OCT 14, 2009, 01:55 PM CDT BY STEPHANIE FRANCIS WARD
Federally funded legal aid is free, and that needs to change, says Luz E. Herrera, a Harvard Law grad who focuses on access-to-justice issues for low- and moderate-income people.
She allows that those with incomes at the bottom of federal poverty guidelines often can’t afford to pay anything and shouldn’t have to. And for some issues, like domestic violence, she says there should never be a fee. But Herrera believes that in many practice areas, clients would appreciate the choices they’d get by paying something—and that it’s patronizing to assume they can pay nothing.
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See the entire profile at http://www.legalrebels.com/posts/luz_herrera
In community-oriented lawyering, the lawyer works with other professionals in the community, using the legal system as one of the tools, to address an issue in the community from a broader perspective. Instead of looking at one client's issue, the lawyer looks for what is the community's issue that has led the client to involvement with the legal system. Community lawyers teach citizens the skills they need to effectively advocate on their own behalf and help them build the self-confidence necessary to bring about changes in their community.
Several years ago, there was a Center for Community Lawyering started by Roger Conner, now a professor at Vanderbilt Law School focused on public policy.
http://www.city-journal.org/html/8_4_sndgs06.html contains an article which describes some of the successes of Community Law.
There is also a website for a local community law group at www.communitylawyer.org
A Community Lawyering Clinic is at the University of Maryland Law School. See:
PRO BONO WORK
Another way that lawyers serve in community is to provide pro bono services.
For example, lawyers in Asheville, North Carolina are employing a holistic poverty law approach through Pisgah Legal Services and the Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer (MAVL) Pro Bono Program. The Asheville independent, community-based, legal services provider, employs an innovative holistic approach to assessing why low-income clients remain in poverty by comprehensively assessing all relevant social and legal problems rather than simply applying a ‘legal aid’ band-aid to the presenting problem. Pro Bono Attorneys involved with the MAVL Program, are encouraged to apply a transformational approach to lift clients up out of poverty through holistic issue spotting and humanistic legal counseling; thus, bringing more meaning to their pro bono practice and longer lasting results for clients. The MAVL Program encourages both collaborative casework and a holistic approach through its legal advice “Hotline” program to reach nearly ten-thousand low-income clients a year.
The Memphis pro bono program has provided training in collaborative law as a means of encouraging the growth of collaborative practice in Tennessee.