Cyndi Mark spoke to Clearinghouse Review in New Orleans about working as a community lawyer on a campaign for bilingual ballots in Boston. She was in New Orleans to train other attorneys at the Shriver Center’s Community Lawyering Training Program in June 2013.
Mark is the managing attorney of the Asian Outreach Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services. She specializes in immigrant workers’ rights, the barriers they face in the workplace, and the rights of limited-English-proficient persons. Mark graduated from Northeastern University School of Law. Before law school, she worked at the Chinese Progressive Association teaching citizenship and English as a Second Language classes and organizing Chinese immigrant workers to advocate for their rights. She’s been a trainer at the Shriver Center’s Basic Lawyering Skills, Community Lawyering, and Leadership Institute trainings. When she is not working, she likes to bike, hike, and camp with her family.
How does community lawyering fit with the larger purpose of legal services?
I think that the larger purpose of legal services is to end poverty. As a legal services lawyer, I don’t believe that I’m going to win a lawsuit or pass a law that will end poverty. By working with community groups who are organizing ordinary people—our clients—who suffer the consequences of poverty, by organizing them and by ordinary people demanding economic justice and social justice, it’s only through community organizing and action that we’re going to achieve real, fundamental change. As a community lawyer, I believe that I can contribute in some small way to that change.
What would you tell an attorney interested in practicing as a community lawyer?
If they want to do it, they can do it. There’s no mystery to it. You basically just have to believe in your clients. You have to believe in the community or communities that you serve, that they have a role to play. In fact, by being a community lawyer, it kind of frees you up a little bit because you don’t have all the pressure. I feel like I don’t have all the pressure to be the one who has to end poverty. I don’t have to be the lawyer to bring the lawsuit to end poverty. My clients, they know what they need. They know that they need safe and affordable housing, and they know how much they need to make to be able to live and support their families. I just provide them with information and maybe tools to achieve that. It’s not a big mystery or difficult thing to be a community lawyer. They can do it as long as they are committed to their communities.
You can contact Cyndi Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.