Community Lawyering

Community LawyeringPromoting an expansive view of a legal aid lawyer’s role, Community Lawyering stresses the importance of thinking beyond litigation (while retaining litigation as a vital tool) in addressing the kinds of structural problems low-income communities face. Participants learn the multi-tactic tools of a successful advocacy campaign, including media and outreach skills, facilitative leadership, action research, targeted planning, and campaign feasibility. ‘Tales from the trenches’ enrich this learning experience, while effort is always made to tailor the training to different region’s particular concerns and needs. Similarly, Community Lawyering can be organized in conjunction with local community leaders, thus becoming a relationship building exercise in and of itself.

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Next Delivery: Onsite in Ann Arbor, MI, October 11-13, 2017

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Topics covered in this course include:

  • Advocacy Campaign Planning
  • Campaign Strategy Development
  • Communications, Media, Storytelling and Framing
  • Community Lawyering for LSC Programs
  • Community Listening and Needs Assessment
  • Diversity Training
  • Feasibility Analysis
  • Legislative Advocacy
  • Meeting Planning and Facilitation
  • Organizing Theory and Methods
  • Relationship Building Techniques

Faculty Bios

Daryl V. Atkinson is an attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) where he focuses on drug policy and criminal justice reform issues, particularly removing the legal barriers triggered by contact with the criminal justice system. In 1996, Daryl pled guilty to a first-time, non-violent, drug crime and served 40 months in prison. Since his release, Daryl has become a zealous advocate for second chances for formerly incarcerated people.

Daryl received a B.A. in Political Science from Benedict College, Columbia, SC and a J.D. from the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Minneapolis, MN. Prior to coming to SCSJ, Daryl was a staff attorney at the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS) where he coordinated the Systems Evaluation Project (SEP), which pioneered a first-of-its kind evaluation tool for indigent defense systems. Daryl went on to help develop the Collateral Consequence Assessment Tool (C-CAT), an online searchable database that allows the user to identify the collateral consequences triggered by North Carolina arrests, indictments, and convictions. Because of Daryl’s intimate knowledge of collateral consequences he was chosen to serve on an advisory committee for the American Bar Association’s collateral consequence project.

Daryl is a founding member of the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, a burgeoning statewide coalition of advocacy organizations, service providers, and directly impacted people that came together to achieve the safe and successful reintegration of adults and juveniles returning home from incarceration. Daryl is on the North Carolina Indigent Defense Services Commission and the Board of Directors for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. Most notably, on June 30, 2014, Daryl was recognized by the White House as a “Reentry and Employment Champion of Change”.  


Dorcas R. Gilmore is a Practitioner in Residence in the Community & Economic Development Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law.  Previously, she worked as Assistant General Counsel for the national office of the NAACP and Skadden Fellow & Staff Attorney at the Community Law Center, Inc.  Dorcas has represented nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and coalitions to advance racial and economic equity.  Her work has focused on issues of economic and environmental justice.  Dorcas was the 2004 Gilbert & Jaylee Mead Public Interest Scholar at the University of Maryland School of Law.  Prior to law school, she provided workforce development training and entrepreneurship education in the Dominican Republic and the Washington, DC area. Dorcas is a member of the Governing Committee of ABA Forum on Affordable Housing & Community Development Law and Board of Directors of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland.

Ellen Hemley, Shriver Center Vice President of Training, oversees the Center's Training Department which provides a full range of education, training and leadership development that support legal aid and public interest advocates capacity to obtain justice for the clients and communities they serve.  Prior to joining the Shriver Center, Ellen served as executive director of the Center for Legal Aid Education (CLAE). Previously, Ellen was Director of Training at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. She also served for many years as an independent consultant serving legal aid networks, bar foundations and justice-related programs across the country.


Ellis Jacobs was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. He attended Fairview High School and the University of Dayton Law School.

He has been a public interest attorney in the Dayton area for 35 years.  During that time, he has been involved in a wide range of advocacy.  He litigated a series of precedent setting cases to provide access to computers and the internet for low-income communities.  The result was the establishment of neighborhood computer centers throughout Ohio.

He has represented communities working for environmental justice in cases that resulted in the clean-up of air pollution from factories, foundries, and incinerators, and prevented the siting of additional landfills in Western Montgomery County.  He represented residents of Jefferson Township in their successful effort to stop the treatment and disposal of partially treated VX nerve agent in their community.  His advocacy also led to a decision by the Federal Highway Administration requiring the City of Beavercreek to allow the Regional Transit Authority to extend bus service to the Beavercreek Mall area. This was the first time the FHWA found a jurisdiction in violation of Title VI based on a complaint filed by a citizen group.

He has also worked to ensure voting rights for all. He has organized legal observers at polling places, lead successful opposition to legislation that would have imposed a strict photo ID requirement on all voters, and worked on litigation to challenge recently adopted voting restrictions.

He has received numerous awards including the Harvard Civil Liberties – Civil Rights Law Journal award for outstanding work in the public interest, the Environmental Champion Award of the City of Dayton, and the Bantz Community Service Award of the League of Women Voters, and the Peckham Award for Humanitarian Leadership from the Community Action Partnership.  He was a recipient, in 2001, of the Atlantic Fellowship in Public Policy which allowed him to work and study telecommunications law in Great Britain.

He is the past president of the Ohio Citizen Action board of directors, and has served on many other boards.  He is currently a board member of the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers telecommunication universal service funds for the nation.

Ellis has worked for the Montgomery County Fair Housing Center, the Montgomery County Public Defender Office, the City of Dayton, the Legal Aid Society of Dayton, and presently works for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc.

Meena Jagannath joined the Community Justice  Project in September  2012.  Meena combines a deep commitment to human rights with a grounding in community organizing. From April 2011 until joining the Community Justice Project, she worked for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti/Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where she coordinated the Rape Accountability and Prevention  Project. In that project she combined legal representation as well as national and international advocacy with grassroots organizing of women's groups.  She is bringing her human rights experience and passion for supporting community organizing efforts to the poor and immigrant communities in south Florida.  Meena is a member of the Florida and the New York Bars, and received her J.D from University of Washington Law School in 2010 where she was a William H. Gates Public Service Law Scholar.  She also holds degrees from Columbia University and Tufts University.

Maria Smith is supervising attorney for the Housing Practice Group of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.  She serves as co-chair of the Housing Committee for the Greater Cleveland Reentry Strategy Coalition, a private, non-profit and government partnership designed to welcome people who are returning to the community after incarceration.  Maria serves on the Board of Directors of the Metanoia Project, a small non-profit that seeks to create trusting and lasting relationships with people in the community who are without housing and decline to use the emergency shelter system. Maria received the 2012 Ione Biggs Social Justice Advocate of the Year award from the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

Anne Sweeney is Managing Attorney for Community Engagement at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.  Anne works with staff and partner organizations on outreach, legal education, training, social work, and advocacy for vulnerable populations.   Anne joined Legal Aid in 2004 as a general practitioner, then specialized in housing, before starting the social work program in 2009 and assuming her current responsibilities in 2012.  She received her JD and MSSW from the University of Wisconsin. She is also a licensed independent social worker.

David Zisser is a staff attorney at Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization in San Francisco. David works on Public Advocates' Metropolitan Equity Team, which challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing housing and transit equity.  

Prior to joining Public Advocates in March 2014, David spent four years at the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, DC, as a staff attorney in the Fair Housing & Community Development Project. David spearheaded the Lawyers’ Committee’s Gulf Coast work, leading campaigns for inclusionary zoning, affirmatively furthering fair housing, disability rights, tenants’ rights and housing code enforcement, primarily in New Orleans. He also worked with organizations and coalitions in Maryland, Mississippi and Louisiana to advocate for community benefits and environmental justice. While in Washington, DC, David co-taught a Public Interest Practice Seminar at American University's Washington College of Law with his twin brother Aaron.

From 2007 to 2009, David was a Housing Fellow at New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He recently co-authored an article in the Shriver Center on Poverty Law’s April edition of the Clearinghouse Review entitled, "Housing and Education Advocates Work Together to Improve Education," and a chapter of a book by the ABA Forum on Affordable Housing & Community Development entitled Building Community Resilience Post-Disaster (the chapter is “Innovative Post-Disaster Community-Based Housing Strategies”).

David received his law degree from UC Hastings and a Masters in City Planning, with a focus on housing and community development, from UC Berkeley in 2007, after completing his undergraduate work at UCLA in 2003.


The Shriver Center's Community Lawyering training was truly transformative. For years, I have dreamed of combining my passions for advocacy and equal justice in creative, groundbreaking ways. I was truly inspired by the success stories I heard from colleagues around the country working on post-Katrina litigation, language access for Chinese immigrant voters, and affordable housing/communitydevelopment work. This training reminded me of the systemic change of which legal services organizations are capable. Can you imagine if we all -- attorneys, advocates, organizers, community members, educators, policy folks - worked together to address the roots of hardship, poverty, and trauma. What a world it would be!  
- Kulsum Ameji, Legal Aid Foundation of Chicago