by Pam de Ocampo and Christine Gray
April 29th at the University of the District of Columbia, we gathered to celebrate timebanking founder, Edgar Cahn. This time, it was to honor Edgar for the two other times he was a visionary founder, before he started the timebanking movement worldwide: the creation of the national legal services program and the founding of the Antioch School of Law.
Oh yes, and we also celebrated Edgar’s 81st Birthday!
Jonathan Cahn, Edgar’s son, started off the program welcoming everyone who came to celebrate Edgar.
James Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation, honored Edgar with heartfelt words (read his speech here). He spoke to the significance of the founding of the Legal Services program and its impact today.
“Today the Legal Services Corporation is the country’s single largest funder of civil legal aid programs. We fund 134 independent legal aid programs with more than 800 offices serving every county in every state, and the American territories as well. No matter where you are in the United States, there is an LSC-funded legal aid program serving low-income people. Edgar did that.”
Free lawyers for people who can’t afford it? It was unimaginable and opposed in the 1960s. The beginnings of the Legal Services Corporation goes back to one law review article, written by Edgar and Jean Cahn. They laid out a whole new way to bring law and justice to low income communities and individuals. Mr. Sandman shared,
“I can think of no more than a handful of law review articles that have had a profound impact on law or society. This is one of them. The article came to the attention of Sargent Shriver, who was then heading President Johnson’s War on Poverty as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Shriver said that when he read the article, he felt like Columbus discovering America. He said the article captured his mind and his imagination, and he decided to incorporate a legal services program into the War on Poverty.”
The founding Dean of the District of Columbia School of Law, William L. Robinson, also gave a special tribute to Edgar.
In 1970, Edgar and Jean decided to found a law school which would break with tradition on nearly every front. The law school that they created – the Antioch School of Law – was formed in 1972.
Antioch represented a bold break with the still conventional idea that law is law, and justice is justice. They insisted instead that the two must be tied together: Law & justice. It instituted competency-based learning for law students. It pioneered the idea that law students should learn by doing; and to that end, it also instituted clinical education as a requirement for all students.
With innovations like that, Antioch quickly gained renown. It attracted young law students who sought, like Edgar and Jean, a revolution in the law and who went on in their lives as lawyers to bring reforms in ways too many to count.
Antioch closed in the late 1987. But the law school continued, along with the original faculty. Inspired by Edgar and Jean, the District of Columbia council took it on as the public law school of the District. In the years since, the UDC-David A. Clarke School of Law – its current name – has built a reputation for training public interest lawyers and for serving DC clients through its extensive clinical program.
But that was far from the whole story. Edgar and Jean’s bold leap into new possibilities led the way to profound changes in the nature of legal education. A measure of how much is that the American Bar Association now requires every law school in the land to apply competency-based learning and at least one semester of clinical legal education.
It is hard now even to believe that the law school methods that Edgar and Jean pioneered at Antioch were initially treated by many in the profession with suspicion and even contempt. They have now become the norm.
Edgar also received a beautiful message from President Barrack Obama.
Thank you to the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law for gathering Edgar’s family and friends, Antioch alumni, and UDC students and staff to honor our Founder’s contributions to the legal profession.