Legal Clinic

The Legal Clinic provided a much needed alternative for women at a time when there were few women lawyers and even fewer women judges. The Clinic gave free legal advice and referred people to women lawyers who charged reasonable fees or did work pro bono.

by the CWLU Herstory Website Editorial Committee

The CWLU's Legal Clinic was organized in 1971, when there were few women lawyers and the entire judicial system was permeated by the kind of blatantly open gender discrimination that is much less common today. Staffed by women lawyers and law students, the Clinic was open one night a week in the evening.

Many of the cases that the Legal Clinic handled involved divorce, child support and domestic violence. The Clinic also dealt with criminal and creditor cases.

For women facing divorce, the Legal Clinic did more than just explain the divorce laws. The Clinic helped women see that the non-legal issues were just as important: learning how to do tasks formerly handed by their husbands, going back to work while dealing with childcare and coping with friends who still saw the woman as part of a "couple".

The Clinic also provided help for women who wanted to use the courts to enforce the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Getting the government to enforce these laws is frustrating and time consuming and can lead to retaliation by discriminatory employers. The Legal Clinic made sure that women understood the obstacles they would have to overcome to win.

A large number of women came to the Clinic to complain about lawyers whom they had hired and paid, but who were doing nothing to advance their cases. The Clinic attempted to help, but made it clear that prevention was the best strategy. They counseled women to get financial details from their attorneys clearly laid out from the beginning, to insist on proper payment receipts and to have access to all divorce complaints and settlement papers.

The Legal Clinic also referred people to trusted women lawyers who worked for reasonable rates or even for free.