Community and Economic Development Law Clinic
Professor Susan Bennett
Professor of Law
Director, Community and Economic Development Law Clinic
Professor of Law
Sr. Administrative Assistant
Program in Community Development and Transactional Law
The Community and Economic Development Law Clinic (CEDLC) provides transactional legal services for client groups engaged in neighborhood-based community development. CEDLC represents and helps organize small non-profits, businesses, and tenants' associations, all of which share the goal of developing resources for greatly underserved urban communities.
The clinic enables student attorneys to experience the practice of transactional and corporate law as an innovative approach to public interest law practice. This is a type of work in which legal services providers are beginning to engage, and which attorneys in the private sector increasingly are taking on to satisfy their pro bono obligations. Our clients include merchants’ associations, organizations serving the needs of senior citizens, formerly incarcerated persons, and immigrant communities; social entrepreneurs, friends of parks, and home day care providers. Clients come to CEDLC not so much with "problems" as with "projects:" how to own and manage an apartment building to keep it habitable and affordable; how to advance the interests of small businesses in gentrifying commercial corridors; or how to organize and fund a farmer's market to supply local produce in a “food desert.” Student attorneys collaborate with clients as partners, to claim a say and a part in how development affects the quality of their neighbors’ lives.
This kind of representation involves extensive training in an array of transactional and business lawyering activities. Interviewing, drafting, counseling, negotiating and problem-solving are– skills which clinic students exercise daily, and which form the core of the business lawyer’s, and any lawyer’s, work. In addition, students stretch their abilities to digest and interpret legislation and codes when they help their clients to comply with zoning and licensing requirements; when they apply for their client’s tax exemption; or when they draft articles of incorporation for non profit or for profit corporations. Students who are not fluent in their clients’ languages learn how to work with an interpreter and how to prepare documents for translation, skills that are indispensable to today’s global practice of law. Students help clients decide what the most effective case presentation and forum for presenting them might be: whether that means arguing the client's case in front of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, or the client board members themselves testifying at an agency oversight hearing.
Student attorneys also learn that all good lawyers work in coalitions and pay attention to political developments. All our client work takes place in the context of extensive contact with other organizations that advocate for resources for residents of the DC metro area. Student attorneys have worked on many collaborative community projects. They have joined with other advocates to develop and testify on legislation to fund corner grocery stores in poor neighborhoods to provide wholesome food. Under the sponsorship of a community development corporation, clinic students presented a series of seminars to residents on incorporation and tax exempt status. Students helped one client organize a coalition of tenants' co-ops to write and promote legislation to make assessment of property taxes more equitable for affordable housing properties.
The clinic is open to 2Ls and 3Ls and is a two semester (fall-spring) program. Student attorneys must plan on attending a two to three day orientation to be held either before or during the first week of classes. In preparation for orientation, student attorneys will receive extensive readings and exercises to complete over the summer. While student attorneys should plan to devote an average of at least 20 hours per week to their clinic work, they should anticipate that, during some weeks, their clients' cases will require a more intense commitment of time.
CEDLC students also assist clients through the Community Development Project of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law. Students work on site at the Lawyers’ Committee, under the supervision of the office’s staff attorneys, and represent community-based housing and development organizations based in New Orleans and Mississippi. Students participate in all orientation and classroom activities with students in the in-house program of CEDLC. For a summary of the Lawyers’ Committee’s community development matters, visit its website at www.lawyerscommittee.org.