852 RARE: Open for Research: The Records of the Community Legal Assistance Office

Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce the opening of a new modern manuscript collection for research — the Records of the Community Legal Assistance Office.

In October 1966, Harvard Law School opened a neighborhood law office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Community Legal Assistance Office (CLAO), with John M. Ferren (HLS ’62) serving as Director. The mission blended service and education providing:

  • clinical legal services to indigent and low-income Cambridge residents;
  • legal education for the poor and underrepresented minorities;
  • contributions to law reform in the areas of housing, community-based municipal government, and civil rights.

CLAO also played a role to the expansion of clinical legal education at the Law School, and promoted curricular and extra-curricular training opportunities for Harvard Law School students in the fields of poverty law and clinical legal services.


Flyer produced by the Community Legal Assistance Office listing services offered. The Records for the Community Legal Assistance Office, Box 6, folder 1, Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library.

Financial support came in the form of a grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the agency that, following the approval of the Economic Opportunity Act (1964) by the United States Congress, became responsible for administering the local application of President Johnson’s Great Society legislation. Harvard Law School contributed an additional 10 percent, in order to permit representation of criminal defendants that would be otherwise have been prohibited under the terms of the OEO federal grant. The ability to represent both civil and criminal defendants distinguished CLAO from other OEO-funded neighborhood law offices, which provided legal assistance only for civil issues.

Working out of their office at the corner of Windsor and Broadway CLAO was heavily involved in the Cambridge community assisting with, for example, the drafting of the Cambridge Model Cities Program, which was another OEO funded program for urban renewal, housing and building projects. Additionally, in 1968, Governor of Massachusetts John A. Volpe signed two bills presented by CLAO with reference to housing, tenant rights, and leases. And in 1969 CLAO obtained the release of a young marine by order of the Federal Court on a petition for writ of habeas corpus, after the Marine Corps had rejected his request for a hardship discharge. The opinion established a new precedent by expanding the scope of review of such Marine Corps decisions.

In 1971, CLAO merged with the other OEO-funded neighborhood law office in Cambridge, the Cambridge Legal Services (CLS), which had opened in 1967, in order to form the Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services (CASLS), which is still in existence.

The Records of the  Community Legal Assistance Office is open to all researchers. Anyone interested in using the collection should contact Historical & Special Collections to schedule an appointment.

Posted on behalf of Lidia Santarelli by Edwin Moloy.

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