On Friday, Jan. 28, the White House and Department of Justice convened 99 law schools that responded to the U.S. Attorney General’s Call to Action to the Legal Profession to address the housing and eviction crisis.
The University of Tulsa College of Law is among those that immediately committed to preventing evictions. In just a few months, law students in 35 states and Puerto Rico dedicated nearly 81,000 hours to provide legal assistance to households and communities across the country.
“Five months ago, I asked the legal community to answer the call to help Americans facing eviction. Law students and lawyers from across the country stepped up to take on cases and assisted their clients and communities at a time when our country needed it the most,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today, our work is far from over, and making real the promise of equal justice under law remains our urgent and unfinished mission.”
Law schools drew on resources, such as pro bono and externship programs, clinical offerings and the service of the larger law school community to aid struggling families avoid eviction through rental assistance application support, volunteer with legal aid providers and help courts implement eviction diversion programs, among other initiatives.
This call to action by the Attorney General and the response from 99 law schools is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to help millions of families keep up on rent and remain in their homes. These efforts – along with the distribution of more than $25 billion to well over 3 million households in need through in the American Rescue Plan Emergency Rental Assistance program by the end of 2021 – has led to increased access to counsel and eviction diversion in jurisdictions across the country and kept eviction filing rates below 60% of averages in a typical year.
“The University of Tulsa College of Law is dedicated to academic excellence and serving the local community, especially marginalized populations. Through the work of the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic, our students and faculty address structural issues around evictions and provide resources to stave off evictions and potential homelessness,” said TU Law Dean Oren R. Griffin. “We are proud of the work performed by our law students in serving the needs of marginalized populations at risk of eviction.”
TU’s West clinic collaborated with the Landlord Tenant Resource Center, which set up a social services hub across the street from the court. Clinic students attended Tulsa eviction proceedings, where they documented irregularities and rights violations, connected individuals with rental and legal assistance, addressed barriers to accessing legal aid and informed court officials and landlords’ attorneys about individuals who had been approved for rental assistance as their cases were heard. The clinic is part of a coalition of legal, health, relief and social services organizations working on evictions. Student observations informed the coalition’s advocacy efforts, as well as the work of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission. Additionally, their observations motivated an ethics complaint involving the practices of eviction mills at the court. Outside of the court, the clinic participated in pop-up clinics for rental assistance and served as a resource for the community.
“TU students saw first-hand how the legal system can affect the lives of marginalized populations and how tenuous access to safe and secure housing can be,” said Professor Roni Amit, director of the West experiential clinic. “As future lawyers, they learned about the significant role that lawyers can play in an individual’s life by keeping them housed. The students’ actions made a difference for countless individuals, children, families and communities in Tulsa.”
Since the American Rescue Plan was passed, emergency rental assistance has accelerated and eviction diversion programs have been established.
“We could not be more inspired that so many dedicated law students and clinical legal programs have risen to the call to provide legal services to hard-pressed families at risk of, too often, devastating evictions,” said Gene Sperling, senior advisor to President Biden and American Rescue Plan coordinator. “We believe that the increased access to counsel that is being provided by such dedicated law students and clinical programs has prevented eviction, despair and even homelessness for countless families and that these types of access to justice and court diversion reforms are also critical to the long-term reforms needed to build back to a better and more humane national eviction policy.”
Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, an experienced attorney, participated in Friday’s event. “We salute the law school deans, faculty and students for answering our call and for using their legal skills to further the cause of access to justice. Their efforts will provide dignity, housing security, and justice to millions of families across our country,” he said.
Details about all of TU Law’s experiential clinics and how they prepare students for success in the legal field are available at https://law.utulsa.edu/legal-clinics/.