Clients, Students, Community
1968 was a pivotal year in our nation’s capital. In the aftermath of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and from the ashes of the D.C. riots came the birth of a social justice movement in legal education. By the end of 1968, a two-year effort to bring equal justice to low-income residents of the District of Columbia was completed.
Due to the tremendous efforts of several forward-thinking attorneys, judges, Supreme Court Justices, Law School Deans, and others, law students in the District of Columbia were permitted to assist indigent defendants in what was then called the Court of General Sessions Small Claims and Landlord-Tenant branches. At the time, a mere 1.6% of all defendants had legal representation in court, while close to 90% of all plaintiffs (usually corporations or wealthy business owners) had the benefit of a skilled attorney by their side. This glaring disadvantage was contrary to the spirit of what President Theodore Roosevelt envisioned when he established the Small Claims Branch. The imbalance resulted in a slipshod justice system, and one in which justice was reserved for the privileged few.
Our organization, the oldest of its kind in the District, was formed in the spring of 1969 to remedy this inequality. We were created to bring balance to the scales of justice. Our existence is designed to level the playing field in the courts.
Our dedicated staff and energetic student attorneys have been leveling that playing field since our first class in 1969. Year after year, students from American University Washington College of Law, The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, The George Washington University School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, and the Howard University School of Law, and most recently, the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, continue to carry the torch of justice and bring balance to the justice system. In 1972, we added a criminal defense practice and started guarding the Constitutional rights of those caught up in the newly-realized corporate, profit-driven, prison-industrial complex.
To us, “innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” are core values that we seek to instill in each of our student attorneys. We believed in 1969, as we do today, that our government must meet its burden before it can strip its citizens of their liberty and dignity. We understand then, as we do now, that civil and criminal justice system disproportionately preys upon poor men, women, and children of color.
Year after year, decade after decade, our supervisors and their students marched on in the trenches of the justice system. We continue to level this playing field in court, one client, one case at a time.