Student legal activism
The Stanford Community Law Project initiated by a group of Stanford law students, now provides valuable legal services to residents of East Palo Alto and hands-on experience to Stanford law students. Law students counsel East Palo Alto residents in cases involving landlord/tenant disputes and government benefits, as well as other legal problems. They also run an Immigration clinic, a youth justice program and a domestic violence program, which obtains temporary restraining orders. Services are available on a sliding fee scale and about 95 percent are performed free of charge, according to Susan Balllet, the project's former executive director. The project was conceived in 1981 by a group of second-year law students. One of them, Jim Steyer, had taught In East Palo Alto with Barbara Mouton, who Is now the city's mayor, and other community leaders.
Steyer is a lecturer In the Political Science Department this year. According to Steyer, who Is also an attorney with the NAACP. the community leaders encouraged him to bring lawyers Into their community and he decided to do so. After three years of fund raising, Steyer and his friends opened the East Palo Alto Community Project In March 1984. Mouton said the project Is "excellent," because It "provides professional services ... to people of limited or no means." Mouton, who serves on the project's board of directors, said the board needs to concentrate on Informing the community about the project through "classes, seminars, newsletters and churches." Although over 2,400 clients have been served since the project opened, "most people [In East Palo Alto) probably don't know about It," Mouton said. Community education Is a top priority for the project, according to Law Prof. Bill Hane, who has been the temporary executive director of the project since Balllet resigned last December. Hane said the project Is "committed not only to legal services, but to doing community outreach and education." In addition, the project seek to use "both vehicles — community education and legal service delivery — to teach students to do both." Between one-third and one-half of the Stanford law students are involved in the project, according to Peggy Russell, a law school graduate who helped start the project and now serves on Its board of directors. Some students provide legal services or community education, while others help govern and manage the project.Work at the project is now part of the regularly assigned coursework In several law classes. Since it is not necessary to be an attorney in order to represent a client at an administrative hearing, many students can handle these cases independently. Under California law. a student who has taken certain classes, including Civil Procedures and Evidence, can represent a client at a hearing or trial, provided an attorney Is present to supervise, according to Balllet. There are currently six lawyers at the project, four of whom are employed by the project and two of whom are affiliated with the Immigration Legal Resources Center. The Stanford Law School was not officially Involved with the student-run project until the fall of 1985, when the school voted to make it an official program. In the fall of 1986, Law School Dean John Hart Ely committed • 150,000 a year to the project, or one-half of the project's annual budget. The law school will solicit donations for the project from foundations and individuals, some of whom will be suggested by the University Development Office, according to Hane. Hane said that the law school development staff has told the development office that the project is its top fundraising priority. Any of the ♦ 150,000 that the law school does not secure through fund-raising efforts will come out of its own budget, Hane said. Despite this financial support from the law school, the project has "maintained its status as an independent non-profit" corporation, according to Steyer, because its "first commitment" is not to the law school, but to the residents of East Palo Alto.
- [The Stanford Daily, Volume 191, Issue 24, 6 March 1987]