Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA)

Chicago, United States
Joined August 2018

CALA is changing the field of legal aid to make it more accessible and responsive to underserved communities and to strengthen its role as a vehicle for social justice.

Presence in: United States
Focus: Citizenship & Identification, Community / Customary Land Rights, Criminal Justice, Family, Gender-based violence, Generalist Legal Services, Housing Rights & Informal Settlements, Labor & Employment, Livelihoods, Other, Traditional / Customary Justice, Women's Rights

Collaboration is at the core of CALA and its vision to change legal aid. CALA develops lawyers who commit to a critical starting point: social justice can and must only be achieved when lawyers work with–and are directed by–communities and activists because the law is only one, often ineffective, tool in the toolbox for change.

Through “community activism-law programs,” which are community-located, community-operated, and community-directed, CALA serves the most disadvantaged communities by uniting lawyers and activists in a pursuit for social change, simultaneously addressing the justice gap, operating more cost-effectively, and creating greater impact than what lawyers or activists working alone could achieve. CALA currently operates 19 community-located, community-operated, and community-directed activism-law programs in partnership with activist organizations that provide free legal services to over 4000 people per year directly in their communities.

Our vision is to change legal aid by redistributing the power of the legal process to communities for which justice is inaccessible. Decisions regarding the operations, scope, and even legal strategy are made by our community activist partners. Our activist partners also decide what campaigns and organizing efforts—and what type of support—we provide. We are able to do so by using the innovations of community activism lawyering: greater, more grassroots-driven impact combined with cost reduction. The model offers a different strategy for how lawyers can serve from within: by leveraging communities’ existing resources and connecting lawyers and the law with activists and social movements. At a fundamental level, the CALA model is a shift from a transactional relationship that is reactive and focused on individual crises to a transformative partnership model pushes for systems change.