Scripps College Pre-Law Society Creates Small Claims Advisory Service

By Ella Murdock Gardner ’22

The Scripps College Pre-Law Society at a meeting

If you were a Californian who wanted to bring a case to small claims court—say, your landlord was shirking responsibilities outlined in your rental agreement—how would you proceed? For most people, the prospect of navigating the legal system on their own is daunting, if not downright discouraging. But Scripps students are working to change that. This semester, the Scripps College Pre-Law Society is spearheading the creation of the first student-run Small Claims Advisory Service (SCAS) in California.

“This service is mainly for people who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to deal with the legal system,” says Annelise Palacio ’23, co-executive director of Claremont SCAS. “We hope to be able to connect clients with volunteers well-versed in California legal codes who can help them through the process.”

Planning for The Claremont Colleges’ SCAS got underway in January, when the Scripps Pre-Law Society received an email from Harvard University’s SCAS program, a student-run organization that has served clients in the Massachusetts area since 1973. Looking to extend their resources and expand their model as part of a “SCAS in 50 States Initiative,” Harvard SCAS reached out to schools in California with pre-law clubs and programs to gauge interest and “see what stuck,” according to Kayla Solomon ’23, president of the Scripps College Pre-Law Society and founder of the Claremont SCAS. “We stuck,” she adds. “We are the first SCAS chapter outside of Massachusetts, so we’re the test model for expansion, but it’s going really well so far.”

Right now, Claremont SCAS legal research directors and volunteers are focusing on distilling legal information and building a comprehensive guide on California small claims law. In the next month, after they conclude their research period, Palacio hopes that they’ll be able to start training volunteers and building a client base by reaching out to non-profits in the area.

“We’re going to start in Claremont and expand outward,” says Palacio. “California is huge, and The Claremont Colleges are pretty small, so eventually we’ll look at recruiting other schools.” The end goal is ambitious: Eventually, Californians from all over the state will be able to call the SCAS hotline for information and support.

“One of my goals for starting the Scripps Pre-Law Society was to give back to the community, but that’s made difficult by the fact that if you’re not a lawyer, you’re not allowed to give legal advice,” says Solomon. “However, SCAS can provide relevant legal information in a way that makes it easier for people to understand and use.”

Using the tried-and-true model provided by Harvard SCAS, Claremont SCAS is carefully walking the line between providing advice and information. “It’s a fine line, but it’s so worth it,” says Palacio. “I think this service has the potential to help many people in our community and beyond.”