By Charles Anzalone
The University at Buffalo School of Law won recognition from the White House and Department of Justice for taking “immediate action to increase housing stability and access to justice” in Erie County during a remote ceremony from the White House on Friday.
UB was among 99 U.S. law schools responding to the Attorney General’s “Call to Action to the Legal Profession” to address the housing and eviction crises that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.
The law schools, which represent 35 states and Puerto Rico, committed resources to help prevent evictions, according to a news release issued by the White House and Department of Justice. In just a few months, law students dedicated nearly 81,000 hours to provide legal assistance to households and communities across the country, according to federal officials, with several hundred of those hours provided by UB law students.
“Five months ago, I asked the legal community to answer the call to help Americans facing eviction,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “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.
“Student attorneys were immediately assigned readings and undertook online trainings to be ready to respond to access to justice issues related to evictions.”
co-director of the Community Engagement Legal Clinic
“Today, our work is far from over, and making real the promise of equal justice under law remains our urgent and unfinished mission.”
The call to action and response from the law schools is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s “all-of-government approach” to help millions of families keep up on rent and remain in their homes.
These efforts – along with $25-30 billion distributed to more than 3 million households in need through the American Rescue Plan Emergency Rental Assistance program by the end of 2021 – have led to increased access to counsel and eviction diversion in jurisdictions across the country, according to federal officials. This has kept eviction filing rates below 60% of averages in a typical year, officials say.
Recognizing the looming eviction crisis, UB’s School of Law launched what it initially called its COVID-19 Legal Response Clinic in September 2020, now known as the Community Engagement Legal Clinic.
“Student attorneys were immediately assigned readings and undertook online trainings to be ready to respond to access to justice issues related to evictions,” says Vanessa Glushefski, co-director of UB’s Community Engagement Legal Clinic with Professor Kim Diana Connolly, vice dean for advocacy and experiential education.
Thirteen UB student attorneys and a faculty member have already participated in training, according to Glushefski. Now that the eviction moratorium has been lifted, incoming Spring 2022 student attorneys will receive trainings offered by the New York State Bar Association through its COVID-19 Pro Bono Network, as well as other community partners, to be ready to hit the ground running next month, she says.
Besides the preparatory work in the Community Engagement Legal Clinic, UB law students in externships with community partners provided support to clients facing eviction proceedings, according to school administrators.
The School of Law has also maintained an active presence in the 8th Judicial District’s Access to Justice (A2J) Committee and plans to continue collaboration with the court and A2J community partners.
“Two law students were placed in externships in Fall 2021 with community partners – the Erie County Volunteer Lawyers Project and the Center for Elder Law and Justice – where they received training and undertook work supporting clients facing evictions,” says Glushefski. “Those students worked more than 270 hours in their placements.”
“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to building a legal system that is just, fair and accessible to all, but we can’t do it alone,” says Douglas Emhoff, who as husband of Vice President Kamala Harris is second gentleman of the United States.
“That’s why 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,” Emhoff says. “Their efforts will provide dignity, housing security, and justice to millions of families across our country.”