Aneel L. Chablani serves as Director of ABLE in Toledo, Ohio. ABLE is an unrestricted poverty law firm serving low-income individuals and groups in Northwest and West Central Ohio. As Director of Advocacy, Aneel oversees impact litigation and broad based advocacy in ABLE’s practice groups covering Housing and Community Economic Development, Healthcare and Public Benefits, Migrant Farmworker Rights, and Education. Prior to joining ABLE, Aneel worked with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans representing inmates on Louisiana’s death row. Aneel began his legal career with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. He is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the University of Notre Dame.
What’s a case or client or piece of advocacy that comes to mind as giving you particular personal satisfaction? Why?
It’s difficult to pick a particular case or project; I feel the most personal satisfaction in situations where my advocacy is addressing a fundamental inequity and attempting to change the balance of power. The satisfaction comes as much from the righteous struggle as it does from the (hopefully) successful outcome. I experienced this working as part of the foreclosure prevention project at LAF in the early 2000s. We worked with longtime homeowners in dire straits after scams and equity stripping by lenders put them at risk of losing their homes. A success was not just saving someone’s home; it was also helping to restore to these clients a sense of independence, stability, and self-determination. My work in Louisiana with the Capital Appeals Project involved representing clients on death row where personal satisfaction came in the struggle not only to identify winning legal arguments, but also in drafting appellate briefs that could bring humanity and dignity to individuals otherwise demonized and discarded. At ABLE we’ve taken on battles dealing with housing segregation, race disparities in education, ethnic profiling, improper denials of access to Medicaid benefits, and transportation inequities. Satisfaction comes in seeing clients and community groups empowered through these challenges.
You wrote an article for Clearinghouse Review on your program’s experience with racial justice advocacy. Why should programs focus on racial justice instead of economic disparities only?
Every legal aid advocate should read Advancing Racial Equity—a Legal Services Imperative by Camille Holmes and Francisca Fajana. In simple terms, we are not a “post-racial” society. We haven’t come close to undoing our nation’s legacy of structural and systemic racism—just look at our schools and prisons. In many situations, those racial injustices have become enmeshed with economic inequities, but that doesn’t mean we can apply universal remedies. We aren’t going to solve these problems unless we address both the racial injustice and economic disparities as distinct animals. Professor John Powell explains this better than anyone through his explanation of targeted universalism.
If you were in charge, what’s one way (other than having more funding!) that public interest legal work would be different?
In simple terms, we are not a ‘post-racial’ society. We haven’t come close to undoing our nation’s legacy of structural and systemic racism—just look at our schools and prisons.
Well, we already have some great leaders out there and many talented advocates doing exciting work. One area where we can improve is becoming better connected to community-based advocacy groups and aligning ourselves with the larger social justice movement. There are many advocates out in the field organizing and working to build coalitions to address injustices; legal services should be connected to these efforts. We should be working with these groups to identify shared priorities and identifying what resources and skills we can contribute as part of these efforts.
You serve as a faculty member for the Shriver Center’s Affirmative Litigation Training program. What’s the one thing you hope participants take from that training?
We have to do our best to position ourselves to be out in front of issues affecting our clients; affirmative litigation gives you the opportunity to do just that. The ALT program teaches that we can and should identify problems early and develop aggressive strategies to address them. Instead of responding on defense, affirmative litigation allows us to choose the forum, frame the issues, and control the narrative.
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
Lazy Sunday mornings with coffee and the New York Times.
Aneel can be reached at aChablani@AbleLaw.org