Harvard’s Small Claims Advisory Service — a legal aid program run by undergraduate volunteers — is expanding nationwide, with new branches founded at Columbia University and the Claremont Colleges this semester.
Student volunteers in the program, which sits within the Phillips Brooks House Association, provide information to those whose legal cases are too small for pro bono lawyers.
Per SCAS’s website, the program’s mission is to “empower socioeconomically disadvantaged people in order for them to seek legal redress effectively through the small claims system.”
Though SCAS began at Harvard, this semester the group has expanded to universities nationwide.
Henry F. Austin ’23, an outreach director for the group, said he hopes SCAS can continue to expand because of the positive impact it has had on many Massachusetts residents.
“One thing for me in being a part of SCAS and volunteering is being able to see the tangible impact that this kind of information can make on people’s lives,” Austin said.
Rasleen K. Krupp ’23, a co-executive director of SCAS, said that resources for small claims lawsuits often are not offered by professional lawyers and instead fall on the shoulders of volunteers.
“We’re the only organization of college students helping with small claims issues of our type, and it’s an overlooked court system because it’s not worth it for a lot of lawyers — it seems like a waste of your time because you’re not going to profit much off of it,” Krupp said.
Kayla Solomon, a senior at Scripps College and co-founder of its pre-law society, worked with Harvard’s SCAS to create a branch for the five Claremont Colleges: Pomona College, Claremont Graduate University, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College.
The group successfully trained more than 35 volunteers in its first semester to help with local small claims law, according to Solomon.
Rachel N. Ramenda, a Columbia senior who started a SCAS branch, said Columbia’s group wrote a series of “Wikipedia-like articles" providing accessible legal information to the New York area.
“[The articles] served a dual purpose of, one, educating the members of the New York SCAS at Columbia on these different areas of law, but also creating a database that will allow our clients to have information as well,” Ramenda said.
Sabrina P. Goldfischer ’23, a legal research director for Harvard’s SCAS, lauded the efforts of the students working at Columbia and Scripps to get their groups off the ground despite working in uncharted territory.
“The reason why we have been able to be successful in being able to help start these programs in these states is just a testament to how hard the directors at these schools have been working,” Goldfischer said. “They’ve been starting from scratch really to get people involved and get people excited about the mission.”
Like volunteers at Harvard’s SCAS, Solomon said she is optimistic about the prospect of creating a web of support for small claims cases across the country.
“I am so excited to start making a difference when it comes to opening up opportunities for people who may not have understood the small claims court system or had access to the information they need to have an effective case and the ability to effectively seek legal remedy,” she said.
—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ejones8100.