Common Law- Press Profile

2010 Union Square Award Recipient

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Woodside, NY 11377

Media Contact: Jay Kim, Co-Director/ Co-Founder
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Around a small kitchen table in a Queens apartment, three friends in their last year at CUNY law school talked over dinner and agreed there was a need for a new type of lawyering model. Their idea was to provide free legal services to support community organizing and activism. They felt that the conventional legal representation model often excludes the client from participating in the judicial system and wanted to make legal knowledge more accessible to communities traditionally marginalized. They were also dissatisfied with customary collaborations that lawyers formed with organizers to increase public awareness of high profile cases. The rest of the evening and the months that followed were devoted to brainstorming and meeting with public interest lawyers, law professors, classmates, and nonprofit leaders. Common Law, officially founded in 2008, is the result.

As the mortgage crisis hit causing an avalanche of home foreclosures, repossessions and homeless people on street, Common Law (CL) approached a Queens-based homeowner advocacy organization and asked, “How can we help?” This began a free legal clinic that provided assistance to more than 200 homeowners defending themselves against foreclosures. The core of CL’s approach is “learning circles,” a small group model that includes attorneys, organizers and 4 to 6 members sharing experiences and learning from one another. As the members’ legal issues are specifically addressed, the collective exchange among participants helps them shape campaign strategies and actions that promote bottom-up social change.

CL’s mission is to use the skills and resources of attorneys to support and strengthen organizing efforts in New York City.  Through partnerships with grassroots, membership-driven organizations, CL brings legal support to New Yorkers struggling to improve their communities. Today, CL collaborates with several organizations in the City to fight foreclosures, protect workers rights and stop gentrification.

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