Increasing Access to Justice for the “Forgotten Middle”Providing affordable, high-quality legal services to low-income DC residents
DC Affordable Law Firm
In 2015, DLA Piper teamed with Georgetown University Law Center and Arent Fox LLP to create the DC Affordable Law Firm (DCALF), a charitable nonprofit located in Washington, DC. DCALF’s lawyers provide affordable, high-quality legal services to low-income DC residents who earn too much to qualify for free legal aid but cannot afford to hire a lawyer at the going rates. In 2020, DCALF launched a partnership with the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, the District of Columbia’s only public law school.
Each year, DCALF selects Georgetown Law and UDC Law graduates for 15-month fellowships, working mostly in the areas of family, landlord/tenant and immigration law. At the end of their fellowships, they also receive an LLM from Georgetown Law. DLA Piper has taken the lead, with the strong support of Georgetown Law, Arent Fox and others in the legal services community, in offering a 12-week training program for the Fellows. Both DLA Piper and Arent Fox lawyers mentor the Fellows and often co-counsel with DCALF.
Mary Gately (Washington, DC) started as a mentor to the Fellows, has co-counseled on family law cases, and, in 2019, became a part-time pro bono legal director for DCALF.
“My work with the DC Affordable Law Firm has been extremely rewarding for at least two reasons. First, we help people who need a lawyer and who previously may have gone without one. DCALF clients have significant legal needs ranging from family law to immigration and housing, and it is an honor to help them in ways that touch their lives and those of their families. Second, I work with recent Georgetown Law School graduates and get to mentor and partner with them on cases. Building these relationships and helping them with the practice of law is very gratifying and rewarding.”
DCALF is a ground-breaking model for access to justice for the hard-working low-income residents of Washington, DC, and its approach can be expanded and replicated nationally. Since DCALF’s inception, DLA Piper and Arent Fox have each provided an average of 1,200 pro bono hours per year in mentorship and guidance. In addition to Mary, DLA Piper volunteers Ben Boyd, Lisa Dewey, Chezelle McDade, Olivia Houston, Edward Scheideman (all Washington, DC), Crystal Doyle (Chicago), and Julie Gryce (San Diego) have recently dedicated time to work with DCALF.
“One in five Washingtonians fall into what we have considered ‘The Forgotten Middle’ when it comes to civil legal services. DC Affordable Law Firm was founded in recognition of a critical access to justice gap that exists in the District of Columbia. ”
Executive Director, DC Affordable Law Firm