Legal services under the radar need to be better known

The New York Times lauds law school clinics for providing challenge to “powerful interests” while public may be unaware of their value; likewise, public may not be aware of the powerful effect of ultra-conservative law schools providing pro-bono services to local authorities all over the U.S.

The New York Times on April 12 warned the U.S. public that “law school clinics often provide the only legal assistance available to poor peoplr. Some powerful interests may not like that, but it is critically important work.”

This is the kind of sentiment, and information, that is important to faith communities like the United Church of Christ.

Our social justice advocacy work is central to our very existence, and I regret that we do not often enough realize how very many communities centered on social justice advocacy there are.

I appreciate The Times’ report on business assaults on the work of the University of Maryland’s law clinic, the chemical industry’s attempts to get Tulane Law School clinic to back off from work on air quality enforcement, and a real-estate developer’s suit against Rutgers University’s attempt to fight a new strip mall. Lawyers need to be trained to take up the concerns of clients fighting entrenched interests inappropriate in a democracy.

Likewise, but in another direction, I am surprised how often I mention to people the way Regent University (Pat Robertson, founder) and Liberty University (Jerry Falwell, founder) send out “flying squads” of pro-bono lawyers to help community school boards and other authorities in the U.S. grassroots promote ultra-conservative agendas . . . my hearers know nothing about that.

Right now a big battlefield is science curricula, but there are other ways that the 1970s neo-conservative program is being supported under the community’s radar. Robertson and Falwell founded their universities with an intention to develop law schools that would provide legal support to local community conservatives — legal, but not helpful from a progressive point of view.

I think progressive churches need to beef up adult education opportunities to make members aware of these dynamics that are right in front of our noses, but which we may not notice.