On May 15, residents of neighboring Mantua and Powelton Village arrived at 3320 Market Street for an open house that aimed to begin a critical partnership between the law school and the community.
The open house marked the first official event organized by the law school’s new Community Lawyering Clinic, which will provide direct legal services, referrals and other forms of advocacy to residents of Mantua and Powelton Village.
Professor and Clinic Director Rachel López has spent months laying the groundwork for the clinic, collaborating with other University offices and neighborhood organizations to assess the community’s most pressing legal needs and working with law students to research best practices for establishing and operating such a clinic.
Starting this summer, the clinic will begin operating at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, located at 35th and Spring Garden streets, where a variety of other educational and cultural programs will be provided by the University. The clinic and the center fit squarely within Drexel President John A. Fry’s vision for establishing a model for community engagement and collaboration.
The clinic also represents yet another avenue for students to gain firsthand experience working with clients, Associate Dean Susan L. Brooks said.
López arrived at the law school with sterling credentials to launch the clinic, having served as a clinical teaching fellow and then a visiting assistant clinical professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, where she supervised students on cases involving immigration, human rights, death penalty, prisoners’ rights, family law, and civil rights cases, in both domestic and international forums. As a cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, she worked on the lawsuit that successfully challenged the New York City Police Department’s stop and frisk practices.
Over the course of the 2013-14 academic year, López’s students studied the experiences of other law school clinics that serve local communities, assessed gaps in delivery of existing legal services in and around University City and developed a referral directory of existing advocacy resources.
The open house was designed to let area residents tour the law school, meet members of the Drexel Law community, and – most importantly – discuss ways in which the clinic can best serve the community.
López, her students, officials from the Dornsife Center and community residents chatted over dinner about the clinic’s goals and community needs.
The clinic will be set up to provide direct legal representation, education regarding law and policy topics of interest to community organizations and individual residents, López said.
Community members who are keenly interested in the impact of the University's growth on the neighborhood said they were grateful for the chance to meet faculty and students and voice concerns.
“It’s very important to be transparent,” Denise Eubanks said, adding that legal assistance with wills and medical directives, criminal record expungement and employment matters will benefit the community.
The open house invited a meaningful dialog, law student Tamara Sharp said.
“The community was very honest,” Sharp said. “They all seem open, but whatever we’ll be doing, they want to know what’s going on.”