Overview and History

Overview

Formed 50 years ago as a response to the crisis in legal services for the poor, our mission is to leverage the collective force of experienced attorneys and student advocates to deliver free and high-quality services to poor and indigent people in the District. From our founding, we have fought for the disenfranchised in our nation’s capital.  We made “equal justice under law” a reality for thousands of our clients and have trained and inspired hundreds of lawyers to protect the legal rights of the less fortunate.

Today, we are a vibrant and unique civil and criminal justice non-profit. We have embedded a law school clinic comprised of students from all six D.C. law schools into a broader direct services organization. We remain committed to protecting the legal rights of those vulnerable men, women, and children in the District. LSIC’s attorneys and student advocates zealously defend against evictions, support the preservation and creation of affordable housing, break down barriers to employment and housing for re-entering citizens, defend the liberties of those accused of crimes, and ensure that equal justice applies to all regardless of income.

LSIC has an incredible impact on the lives of DC residents; in 2018, we served more than 3000 clients, mentored 90 law students from all six of the area’s local law schools, and provided over 30,000 hours of free services to low-income District residents. For more information about the many ways we assist our clients, please see here.

In years to come, we will continue our fight to realize a world where, in the words of Justice Lewis Powell, Jr., “justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.” Every year of this fight, we strive to pass the torch of justice to our next generation of students.

History

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.

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Our dedicated staff and energetic student attorneys have been leveling the 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, 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 the playing field in court, one client, one case at a time.

 

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