Document Type



Accepted for publication in Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, vol. 20 (2005)


This article looks at contemporary notions of "access to justice," particularly in relation to poverty lawyers' goals of "bridge building" between economically distressed communities and institutions of political and legal power.

The underlying goal of collaborative, as well as of traditional lawyering strategies has been to enable disempowered clients to reach the power brokers and distributors. Access to the communities from which such clients come is not perceived to be part of the imperative, however; lawyers do not think in terms of providing the privileged and powerful with access to financially undersupported communities. Thus, one thing that appears to be missing from "access to justice" theories is a recognition that access is a two-way street.

This suggests a number of challenges for lawyers working in poor communities: What do we assume about power in this context? What assumptions are made about the desirability of access to conventional power, and about the undesirability of accessing the power bases in the neighborhoods? Who really stands to benefit from the interactions between professional service providers and community residents? Implicitly, this article argues, those ostensibly being enabled are also being devalued. To ameliorate this, the author proposes that the value of increased access to communities be explicitly recognized.

Assuming two-way access as a fundamental goal, certain elements are a requisite part of whatever strategies are employed. The basic ingredients can be summed up as: respect for the homeplace; cross-socialization, and strategic use of social capital. Processed together, these lead toward a mutually beneficial relationship. The article outlines a basic beginning methodology: the creation of hospitality space, within the community, where community insiders and outsider allies can interact with a goal toward developing new, as yet unimagined, thirdspaces.

Date of Authorship for this Version

November 2005


Community lawyering, Poverty law