“The businessman does not seek a license, a franchise, a government contract, or a subsidy without his lawyer at his side. Is the need of the poor for shelter, possession of household furniture, sustenance, or custody of his children less important?”
-The Honorable Raymond Pace Alexander
Rendering decision approving the CLS Charter, 1966
A recent editorial in the New York Times began, “In our legal system, justice costs money, which means lots of poor people have to get along without it.” It’s true: the poorest Americans do not have the same access to justice, liberty and equality that we have been taught our society values above all else and promises to everyone.
The attorneys and other staff members at Community Legal Services (CLS) in Philadelphia work to ensure that America makes good on its promise of equal access to justice for the poorest Philadelphians.
In fact, for more than 50 years, CLS has provided the highest quality legal assistance to low-income Philadelphians who cannot afford legal counsel when they most need it. In the past year alone, CLS has helped over 12,000 Philadelphians, fighting consumer fraud and predatory lending, preventing homelessness, ensuring fair treatment in the workplace, gaining access to health care, and protecting women, children and the elderly.
CLS also plays a prominent role nationally. CLS is routinely at the forefront of emerging legal issues that have particularly dire consequences for poor people, including pay and hiring problems faced by low-income workers, predatory consumer lending scams, and access to disability benefits for vulnerable groups such as teens in foster care and elderly immigrants. Because of our broad legal expertise, CLS has had a profound impact on local and national policy as we help policy makers understand the ramifications of their policies on the most economically fragile members of our society.
CLS is divided into eight legal units, each with a different legal expertise. The eight units are Public Benefits, Housing, Employment, Family Advocacy, Energy, Aging and Disabilities, Language Access, and Homeownership and Consumer Rights. On this website, you will find information about each of these units, including the kinds of cases they handle, and how to get in touch with them if you need help.
You will also find the stories of some of our clients. More than anything else, these stories illustrate the work that CLS attorneys do every day to make the dream of access to justice a reality for low-income Philadelphians.
We would love to have you help us as we work to ensure that CLS has the resources it needs to provide civil legal services for the poor, for whom access to lawyers can mean the difference between total ruin and food, shelter, jobs and health care. There are multiple ways that you can add your voice, your time, and your money to help poor Philadelphians have access to legal services in civil legal matters. Just click the Donate button to find out how to partner with CLS to ensure that justice is available to all, regardless of income.
The work conducted by Community Legal Services is an integral part of this nation’s system, the very foundation of our democracy. Yet we are reminded every day that the gap between the rhetorical promise of equality and justice and the reality for the clients walking into our offices is huge and glaring. The work of CLS is mainstream American work, to make the promise of justice true for all Americans and valued by the larger community. With your partnership, we will continue serving Philadelphians in need at what is often the most critical time in their lives. Please help make equal access to justice a reality for everyone.
Debby Freedman, Esq.