Graduates, faculty and friends gathered to applaud the outstanding work of the Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic over the past 20 years at a special anniversary party Oct. 30.
Professor Michael P. Seng brought his idea of a clinic to fruition with assistance from F. Willis Caruso, who initially paired with Seng on an externship program at the Leadership Council of Greater Chicago in 1985. Caruso was the council’s general counsel at the time.
Seng recalled an important John Marshall case he and Caruso handled in 1989 that supported John Marshall student Merilyn Brown, who was denied an apartment because of her race.
Seng said “that case taught me about the great mental anguish faced by those discriminated in their housing choices,” and he promised Brown that the law school would do something significant to prevent that type of discrimination. In 1991, the Fair Housing Legal Support Center was opened, and Brown became its first director.
In 1993, Seng was able to spin the externship off into the law school’s first clinic working on behalf of those discriminated in their housing choices.
Despite Seng’s not having any experience at operating a legal clinic, he decided to take a chance because he knew students could do much good for the most needy in the community. He told the guests his dream was that clinical students “would be able to change society in some small way. Whether we have or not, I’m not sure, but the clinic has been an asset to our students and alumni.”
Dean John E. Corkery said the celebration was a reminder of the “hard work, dedication, commitment, education and leadership on the part of our Fair Housing Center & Clinic that is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work, vision, and commitment on behalf of many gathered here tonight.”
During its 20 years of service, the Clinic has served 1,185 students who have taken the Fair Housing/Fair Lending Law course and worked in the Clinic. And, during the past 10 years, 286 students have taken the Fair Lending Home Preservation Law course, performing more than 2,100 loan reviews.
More than 13,000 individuals have sought legal assistance from the Clinic, and more than 800 cases were accepted for legal representation. Of those, the Clinic won favorable decisions in nearly 700 cases, including housing units secured, reasonable accommodations or modifications and monetary settlements.
“We have worked hard, and we have many great stories. But most of all, we have many great alumni—outstanding attorneys who have taken their experiences into the courtrooms and communities of Chicago and the rest of the country,” Seng said.
The support of the law school’s administration has been invaluable—from Dean Leonard Schrager who agreed to the development of the externship with the Leadership Council, to the opening of the Fair Housing Legal Support Center and later the Clinic under Dean Howard T. Markey; the outstanding work of Caruso who came to John Marshall; Joe Butler, the first clinical instructor; Professor Corinne Morrissey served as the first clinical director; Brenda Shavers, the first clinical professor; and Lewis Powell, the first adjunct professor who continues to serve the students. The work continues under Clinic Director Allison Bethel with Clinical Professor Damian Ortiz.