Adam Murray is the Executive Director of Inner City Law Center, the only provider of legal services on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. ICLC combats slum housing while developing strategies to end homelessness. Prior to joining ICLC, Adam was a litigator with the international law firm Howrey LLP. He has served as president of the boards of the Housing Rights Center of Southern California and the Immigration Center for Women and Children, and has taught economics and political science at East Los Angeles College. Murray is a graduate of Pomona College, Claremont Graduate University, and UC Berkeley Law. His Stanton project will investigate how legal services agencies should focus their limited resources to have the biggest impact on poverty.
The Challenge: The thorny problem that I set out to solve was: How should those of us in legal services “focus our limited resources to have the biggest impact on poverty?”
The Proposal: I initially proposed to tackle this problem by:
(1) Reviewing the social science literature about the effectiveness of various legal services
(2) Meeting with the most creative legal service leaders around the country to learn what
they are doing and what they believe is most effective.
The Stanton Journey: The journey was fabulous. I learned a ton and met a lot of wonderful people along the way. As a result of the fellowship, I now have a much deeper sense of the role that lawyers can and should play in anti-poverty efforts. At the outset of the fellowship, I obtained space at Occidental College Library and sequestered myself away for a lot of reading. I quickly learned that there is not a rich social science literature on the effectiveness of lawyers. The few studies that have been done tend to be of limited scope, and conflicting in their conclusions. I did however learn a lot about the history of legal services for the poor and about various approaches that have the potential to significantly impact poverty, low-income housing or legal services. Over the course of my fellowship I traveled around the country (including to New York, DC, Northern California, and Mississippi). I met with a number of very creative legal service leaders, nonprofit executives, and academics. I attended conferences or retreats at Stanford and Santa Clara and in New York and DC. A highlight was the Great Mississippi Road Trip road trip. I spent a few days traveling around Mississippi with an amazing cadre of civil rights activists, learning about how the current work of the Mississippi Center for Justice fits into the long arc of struggle for economic and racial justice in Mississippi.
During the second year of my fellowship, I spent time crafting four opinion pieces:
• LA proves again that law enforcement won’t solve homelessness, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2015
• LA mayor should veto laws criminalizing homelessness, Los Angeles Daily Journal, June 25, 2015
• Preventing Homelessness, Los Angeles Daily Journal, October 1, 2015.
• Four myths that make LA County’s homeless problem worse, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2015
Towards the latter portion of the fellowship, I focused much of my time on learning about efforts around the county to prevent people from becoming homeless. As a result of these efforts, I wrote ten-page memorandum about “Preventing Homelessness in the City of Los Angeles,” and sent it to the Mayor and members of the City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee. My fellowship time started blending in with my daily work more, as my increased knowledge about homelessness prevention started pulling me more into local policy debates. Using some of what I had learned over the course of the fellowship, at the end of 2015, Inner City Law Center brought together 57 homeless service providers and affordable housing developers to strategize about homeless policy in Los Angeles. We are now helping these organizations to collectively advocate for improvements to local homeless policies.
Where I Am Now: As I conclude my Stanton Fellowship, I would answer my original inquiry about what legal aid lawyers should do to have the biggest impact on poverty by saying that legal aid lawyers should focus fewer of our limited resources on serving individual clients and more focus more on impacting broad policies that cause or perpetuate poverty. In addition, I have come to believe that we must find ways to dramatically scale up our services and have many
more lawyers involved in anti-poverty work. Inner City Law Center provides free legal services for thousands of clients every year. Providing these services to our individual clients is at the core of our mission. We will continue to sue slumlords and to help our individual clients connect with public benefits and become or remain or stably housed. However, as ICLC grows we will be dedicating an increasing portion of our resources to advocating for public policies that more aggressively address the enormous housing and homelessness challenges that we face here in Los Angeles.
I am enormously grateful to the Durfee Foundation for providing me with the time to explore, to learn and to grow professionally in ways that would not have been possible without this fellowship. Thank you!