Small Claims Court Clinic

On a monthly basis, volunteer attorneys and Southwestern law students conduct detailed Small Claims workshops open to both plaintiffs and defendants. Following the one-hour PowerPoint presentation, litigants are invited to discuss the option of mediation with a mediation representative, and have the ability to meet one-on-one with a volunteer to clarify procedural issues, ask additional questions, and prepare for their hearings. Litigants are seen on a “first come, first served” basis. With an average of 30 participants attending each workshop, the project has assisted over 2,500 litigants. Outreach efforts specifically target low-income Angelenos. The presentation and one-on-one meetings are conducted in both English and Spanish.

The Project is a collaborative effort of Southwestern, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the law firms of Greenburg Glusker, Reed Smith and the Center for Conflict Resolution.

In conjunction with the Small Claims Project, Southwestern Law School additionally hosts the Inner City Law Center’s (ICLC) Small Claims Outreach program. After the general workshop, tenants seeking to enforce their rights in Small Claims Court have the further option of meeting with an ICLC volunteer for free one-on-one legal assistance.

The Small Claims Court Clinic has been awarded the distinguished “Pro Bono Service Award” for “providing meaningful support to low and middle income citizens accessing the small claims courts.”

Professor Laura Dym Cohen leads the effort on behalf of Southwestern. "We feel very fortunate to be part of a project that is a successful collaboration, meets the needs of the community and has positive results for Small Claims Court in Los Angeles," Professor Cohen said. "Through the Small Claims Clinic, litigants receive more attention and information for their specific questions than is currently available elsewhere in Los Angeles."

Law student volunteers who participate in the Small Claims Clinic gain valuable hands-on legal experience that enables them to hone their interviewing skills, identify issues and apply the law to the facts. They see first-hand how the small claims process works including how to ensure proper service, what paperwork should be presented to facilitate the hearing officer's understanding of a case, and other strategies for a successful claim. Prior to working with clients, students receive materials and training in case preparation and are encouraged to visit Small Claims Court to observe hearings.