In the U.S., people with incomes that fall between 200%-400% above the federal poverty level are often on their own when seeking access to justice, finding themselves ineligible for traditional forms of free legal services yet unable to afford private counsel. In the District of Columbia, over 125,000 residents fall within that income range. As a result, a significant number of DC residents appear pro se in legal proceedings that have potentially significant and long-term consequences.
In response to this access to justice gap, in 2015, Georgetown University Law Center, Arent Fox LLP, and DLA Piper LLP joined to create DC Affordable Law Firm (DCALF). DCALF is a charitable non-profit that provides legal services to Washington, DC residents in the “forgotten middle” – individuals with modest incomes who do not qualify for traditional forms of free legal assistance and would otherwise be forced to “go-it-alone” in addressing legal problems, such as child custody disputes, immigration, and estate matters. DCALF believes everyone deserves access to justice, and that income should not be a barrier to high-quality legal representation. In 2020, the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) joined as a fourth partner, allowing DCALF to serve more DC residents and expand its fellowship program to include law graduates from both educational institutions.
Through the legal representation provided by post-graduate fellows from Georgetown and UDC Law, DCALF is able to serve hundreds of DC residents each year, meeting its mission of providing a full spectrum of high quality, accessible legal services to DC residents with unmet legal needs who cannot secure representation elsewhere.
The DCALF LL.M. Fellowship Program
The DCALF Fellowship is open to up to six Georgetown Law graduates and three UDC Law graduates. Fellows enrolled in this program will earn a fully funded LL.M. in Advocacy from Georgetown Law for their successful completion of the 15-month fellowship program. Under the guidance of faculty director Professor Rachel Camp, fellows receive intensive training beginning on the first day of Fall classes and continuing through much of the Fall semester. DCALF, Arent Fox, and DLA Piper lawyers, as well as community practitioners and Georgetown and UDC Law faculty provide that training. The training program covers a broad complement of topics, including lawyering and litigation skills, substantive law in DCALF’s primary practice areas (family law, immigration law, and probate), and law firm management and practice. Following the training, fellows begin client work. Fellows should anticipate quickly gaining extensive litigation experience, appearing regularly in trials and court hearings, and acquiring exposure to a range of DCALF’s practice areas. During their casework, fellows receive mentoring and supervision, along with a balance of independent work and opportunities for collaboration. Fellows reflect on lawyering and the legal system, and commit to supporting DCALF’s work toward anti-racism, equity, and inclusion. DCALF fellows will graduate with a range of lawyering and litigation skills, an appreciation for the importance of access to justice, and the professional competence to represent a client population with great legal needs in DC, and across the country.
DCALF seeks fellows who are committed to addressing a critical access to justice gap by providing high-quality representation to DC community members for whom legal representation would otherwise be out of reach. It further seeks fellows committed to furthering the organization’s mission and innovative approaches to lawyering.
DCALF’s Practice Areas
Family Law, including:
• Child Custody and Visitation
• Child Support
• Custodial Power of Attorney
• Guardian ad Litem representation
Immigration Law, including:
• Applications for Permanent Residency
• Applications for Citizenship
• Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
• U Visas
Estate Planning, including:
• Financial Powers of Attorney
• Medical Powers of Attorney
Post-Fellowship Employment Outcomes
DCALF alumni have gone on to work for a variety of public and private employers, including:
• Juvenile Law Center
• D.C. Volunteer Lawyers Project
• Disability Rights D.C.
• Legal Aid Society of D.C.
• D.C. Superior Court (clerkships)
• Family and immigration law firms
• University Title IX offices
UDC Law is excited to announce the launch of a partnership with DCALF and Georgetown University Law Center that will provide recent UDC Law graduates with low bono experience. Initially a three-way partnership between Georgetown Law and the law firms of DLA Piper and Arent Fox, DCALF has expanded to include UDC Law graduates.
As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country in late March 2020, DCALF, the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia launched the Family Law Assistance Network (FLAN), a free and confidential legal service for emergency family law matters
With the coronavirus pandemic upending the economy and pushing some of Washington D.C.’s most vulnerable families into poverty, DCALF is expanding both its staff and services to meet the needs of its clients, half of whom have fully or partially lost their income this year.