Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia Loses a Social Justice Pioneer.
Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia mourns the passing of trailblazing legal scholar, civil rights activist, law professor, and social justice innovator Dr. Edgar Cahn '35. Dr. Cahn passed away on Sunday, January 23, 2022, at the age of 86.
Dr. Cahn and his late wife, Jean Camper Cahn pioneered the concept of using federally funded legal services for the poor and were co-architects of neighborhood-based legal services. Of Professor Cahn’s numerous articles, The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective, 73 Yale L.J. 1317 (1964), co-authored with Jean Camper Cahn, provided the blueprint for neighborhood-based law firms for the poor which provided the model for Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia. In 1964, Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia became the first and remains the only legal services provider in Washington, D.C., that has legal offices strategically situated in the community to achieve fundamental change for the poor of that community. Sargent Shriver, Director of President Kennedy’s Office of Economic Opportunity, credited it as the “genesis of legal services.” It is one of Yale Law Journal’s most cited articles.
Dr. Cahn and Jean Camper Cahn co-founded the Antioch School of Law in 1972. Dr. Cahn taught System Change and the Law & Justice Practicum at the David A. Clarke School of Law and has worked there since the law school opened. The Antioch School of Law, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law's predecessor is the first law school in the United States to educate law students primarily through clinical training in legal services to the poor.
Dr. Cahn authored several publications and received many awards. In 1997, Dr. Cahn and his late wife received the Association of American Law School’s William Pincus Clinical Award for “Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Legal Education.” In 2009, they received the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s Charles Dorsey Award for extraordinary and dedicated service to the equal justice community and to organizations that promote expanding and improving access to justice for low-income people. Dr. Cahn's use of “time dollars” as an economic strategy for addressing social problems is described in his books, Time Dollars (1992) and No More Throw-Away People: The Coproduction Imperative (2004), showing how to mobilize a non-market economy that recognizes and rewards reciprocal contributions of service and caring. With the publication in 1968 of Hunger, USA, and litigation he instituted, Professor Cahn initiated both the preeminent exposé of hunger in America and the first major national drive against it.
In 1969, after years of research, and with evidence, the Native American Task Force helped to gather, Professor Cahn published Our Brother’s Keeper: The Indian in White America. It substantiated and contributed to efforts that ended the official policy of termination of American Indian nations, embraced the right of self- determination, and led to the enactment of Public Law 93-638, the American Indian Self Determination Act.
Professor Cahn has been a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights, a Senior Research Fellow at the Southeast Florida Center on Aging at Florida International University, and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the London School of Economics.
Dr. Cahn dedicated his life to social justice and promoting systems of self-help in low-income communities. His dedication to social justice and ending poverty inspired generations of lawyers and civil rights activists. For those fortunate to know Dr. Cahn, we will always hold his memory in our hearts. Dr. Cahnn’s passing is disheartening to all community lawyers and public interest leaders he inspired, and his legacy will continue through the community legal services provided by Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia.
Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia is especially grateful for Dr. Cahn and his contribution to our leadership team. Karen A. Newton Cole is the Executive Director of Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia and is a graduate of Antioch School of Law. Sakinda Skinner is the Director of Litigation and Advocacy for Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia and is a graduate of UDC David A. Clarke School of Law.« Back to news listing
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