A Harvard-sponsored office which provides legal said to low-income residents of Cambridge will soon be guided by a policy-making board composed largely of representatives of the community served by the office.
This week, the Community Legal Assistance Office (CLAO) sent letters to 15 community organizations--including local planning teams, a tenant seat, and a welfare rights organization--and asked each organization to designate a representative for the board.
Of the board's initial 29 members, 17 will be community representatives, while most of the remainder will be Harvard Law School students and Faculty, and representatives of City and state bar associations.
The powers of the policy-making board have not yet been defined, but it is expected that the board will have a major say in determining the future course of the legal aid office.
"As the board considers policy issues, it presumably will develop more and more insight into what the most productive and responsive relationship between community and law school can be for a joint venture in legal services. One can anticipate, therefore, that the most appropriate formal relationships among everyone involved with CLAO will come into sharper and sharper focus as the board continues to function," the office's letter said.
Founded in October, 1966, the CLAO office is funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity and by the Harvard Law School. The bulk of CLAO's financing comes from the OEO, while the law school pays primarily for handling criminal cases, which Congress had forbidden OEO to pay for.
Currently CLAO has four full time staff attorneys, and last year, Harvard law students volunteered 11,000 man hours of additional assistance.
Since its founding, CLAO has handled over 5000 cases, and has worked for legal reform in welfare, consumer credit practices, and in private and public housing. In recent months, fighting evictions has come to occupy an increasing proportion of CLAO's time.
The office has also aided neighborhood action groups; CLAO staff attorneys, for example, did the legal work needed to draft Cambridge's Model Cities ordinance.