Ranie Thompson spoke to Clearinghouse Review in New Orleans about her experiences as a community lawyer. She was training other attorneys in New Orleans at the Shriver Center’s Community Lawyering Training Program in June 2013.
Thompson is the Managing Attorney of the Foreclosure Defense Unit at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in New Orleans, Louisiana. She supervises a staff of attorneys and housing counselors who represent homeowners in twenty-two parishes who face losing their homes to foreclosure. She has trained attorneys, law students, and advocates for social justice, on disaster recovery, foreclosure defense litigation, mortgage and foreclosure rescue fraud and scams, diversity and inclusion in the profession, and general financial awareness.
She joined Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in 2006 as an Equal Justice Works Katrina Legal Fellow. She founded the New Orleans Medical-Legal Partnership with Algiers Community Health Clinic and Tulane University Covenant House Community Clinic. Prior to joining Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Ms. Thompson was a staff attorney at the ACLU of Mississippi where her work included prisoners’ rights and racial discrimination in workplaces. She is a 1993 graduate of Jackson State University and a 1996 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law.
Why is community lawyering important for legal services attorneys?
I think every lawyer who gets into this work should have one opportunity, one course in community lawyering to get beyond what we’re traditionally taught and led to believe the practice is about. There is a need to get to know the practical aspects of the lives of the people that we affect, directly and indirectly, based on the actions and work that we do.
What do you try to convey to the participants in the Community Lawyering Training Program?
That there’s passion. That you’re not alone in doing this work. That there is purpose and meaning in it. That there is definitely a need for it. And that this is the way we should all be doing it because we’re not isolated. As much as we are professionals, we are also human, and we have to respect our brothers and sisters who are part of the community that we live in. It’s about building a holistic, sustainable society where everybody feels like there is equity and fairness and truly a sense of justice. It’s about understanding and acknowledging that the systems that we’re forced to operate in don’t always trend in that direction for many of our clients. Our role as community lawyers is to help community members to recognize their own power and their own abilities and to see opportunities to begin to work toward a shift in the way the structures and systems that are in place can be changed or to navigate them in a way that benefits what their needs are.
Ranie Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.