Creating Legal Empowerment Tools for Returning Citizens

Pop-up legal clinics have become a common model for providing services to the community around discrete legal issues such as expungements and pardons. While these models are helpful, they create a dynamic whereby lawyers stand as the gatekeepers between the community and the courts.  However, community lawyering asks that we look not at how we can be mere service providers, but instead at how we can empower the community to achieve its own goals through its own efforts. In other words, how we can teach a man to fish instead of merely providing him with today’s meal.

In Pennsylvania, there are a finite number of lawyers working on re-entry and collateral consequence issues.  In contrast, there is a never-ending stream of citizens who are returning to the community who have legal issues that need to be met in order for them to move forward in their lives. Many of these issues do not necessarily require the intervention of an attorney, at least not at the preparation stage. Instead, already existing community organizations – including service providers and religious institutions – could serve as the bridge between these returning citizen and the legal system.

Students involved in this project identified legal areas that are well-positioned for community-based preparation assistance (e.g., expungement, child visitation modifications, ID applications, license reinstatement). They then worked to create a website that would assist returning citizens and community organizations in addressing these legal issues.