An inspirational week of dialogue, discussion and action marked the Fox Rothschild Center for Law and Society’s 17th annual Law and Society Week at Community College of Philadelphia, a week in which judicial ethics were explored and social justice was the rallying cry.
Law and Society Week provided students, faculty, staff and community members with updates on emerging legal issues and trends while offering practical advice from respected experts. More than two dozen workshops, lectures, panel discussions and demonstrations during the week were free and open to the public.
Among the week's highlights was Edgar Cahn, distinguished attorney, law professor and one of the nation’s foremost advocates for social justice, who delivered a talk about community equality. “It’s exciting to be here,” he said, praising the College for its longtime support of Law and Society Week. “You are doing what very few institutions are doing. You are talking about justice.”
Informative, aspirational and still a burning advocate for justice, the 81-year-old Cahn shared his transformative experience of falling in love and marrying an aspiring African American lawyer, Jean Camper, in 1957, and subsequently being subjected to discrimination, prompting him to work even harder for social justice.
In keeping with their belief that the legal system should be used as an instrument for promoting social justice, Edgar and Jean Camper Cahn (who died of breast cancer in 1991) co-founded the Antioch School of Law in the early 1970s (now renamed the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of District of Columbia). It was the first institution to educate law students primarily through clinical training in legal services to the poor.
For some visionaries, that would be enough, but Cahn didn't stop there. His desire to involve communities in promoting systems of self-help birthed the Time Dollars project in the late 1980s, a service credit program that now has more than 70 registered programs in the United States, Great Britain and Japan. The idea behind his use of “time dollars” was to mobilize a non- market economy that recognized and rewarded reciprocal contributions of service and caring.
“It’s essentially a tax-exempt barter system, where people earn credit to help each other and use those credits to help themselves,” Cahn explained. “Say for instance you have a sick child and can’t go to class, somebody can take notes for you. It’s a new kind of extended family.”
One social justice idea begat another. The Time Dollar philosophy inspired Cahn, in the early ‘90s, to establish Youth Court, aimed to keep teenagers out of the juvenile justice system, and help them learn to negotiate and communicate better. Cahn believed that people do better when they contribute to the solution of their own problems. There are now more than 1,000 Youth Courts in the United States.
“You can’t get to justice by simply funding programs,” Cahn said. “Money alone will not solve the problem. You have to involve the people the program is designed for to try to help you come up with ideas.”
A wealth of ideas was shared during Law and Society Week. The week started with an exploration of the psychological effects of war, specifically post-traumatic stress, told through a screening of “Our Way
Home: Transitioning from the Front Lines to the Homefront.” The documentary told the homecoming stories of United States veterans from World War II to the present. It was produced by Alexis Werner, who started the nonprofit, Seeds of Hope, as a way not only to understand the war her stepfather waged in Afghanistan, but the war raging inside himself upon his return.
College students, faculty and staff were treated to a lineup of panel discussions and presentations as varied as an examination of mass incarceration through a hip hop musical (“The Last Jimmy”) to a discussion by U.S. Department of State officials about the plight of international refugees; and a discussion of recent breeches in judicial ethics and the impact they have on public perception.
“The feedback has been phenomenal,” said Kathleen Smith, J.D., director of the College’s Fox Rothschild Center for Law and Society, who founded Law and Society Week with her husband, David M.Freeman, J.D., associate professor of Social Science at the College. “Students have been bubbling all week about what they learned. It’s about engagement, and sparking interest in the bigger world.”