JoNel Newman

Document Type


Publication Date



Every legal services program has a waiting room, some newly furnished, others with old sofas and tattered chairs. The families, children, and elderly sitting in these waiting rooms consistently are disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. Despite this constant reminder that those seeking legal assistance for their perceived wrongs are disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities, legal services programs are bringing fewer and fewer affirmative challenges that incorporate race-based antidiscrimination claims.
In this article we explore possible reasons for this lack of affirmative race- and national-origin-based discrimination claims and suggest some ideas for preserving or restarting this type of advocacy, ideas that advocates in legal services programs throughout the country are using. First we describe some examples of race-based claims that frequently arise in any busy legal services practice; we do so to demonstrate that situations that give rise to race based claims--both simple and complex-- present themselves every day and to show that advocates easily can overlook those claims. We then discuss four elements that are necessary for encouraging increased race-based advocacy and litigation in a legal services practice; these elements are based on our interviews with advocates from fifteen legal services programs throughout the country and our own experience with legal services programs.