The Scripps College Pre-Law Society is spearheading the creation of the 5Cs’ first Small Claims Advisory Service. Through the service, students will help community members in the city of Claremont with tenant and consumer law cases that would otherwise be difficult to handle, while gaining legal experience themselves.
The service is intended to help people with small claims court cases, which include minor disputes in the lowest tier of the court system. These cases have the lowest pay-out limits and include conflicts such as landlords withholding security deposits from tenants and consumers filing consumer rights law cases against deceptive bank practices. A pay-out is the money one can gain by winning a court case.
Due to the small pay-out, the litigation process often does not include lawyer advice, leaving members of the community unaware of their rights.
Kayla Solomon SC ’23, president and founder of the Claremont Colleges’ SCAS and the Scripps Pre-Law Society, told TSL that the service’s creation began when Harvard University’s SCAS program contacted the Scripps Pre-Law Society by email in January.
The email detailed Harvard’s SCAS mission and that it was looking to expand its resources into California through the 5Cs as part of their “SCAS in 50 States Initiative.” From there on, the groups collaborated to develop Claremont SCAS.
Harvard’s SCAS is a student-led university initiative founded in 1973, which has since been serving their local Massachusetts community with its student volunteers.
Annie Palacio SC ’23 and Nora Renea SC ’23 will serve as the co-executive directors of staff of Claremont SCAS, leading the group’s daily activities and the training and managing of volunteers. Palacio will also serve as the volunteer director, connecting volunteers with cases. Under Solomon’s supervision, the two will be the primary leads in starting the organization and working with Harvard SCAS.
This service will be the Pre-Law Society’s first opportunity to connect with Claremont’s non-student population, and it intends on supporting as many people as possible with the resources the 5Cs provide.
“[We]’re hoping to share the wealth of information that we have access to and the skills that we have as college students when doing this sort of research,” Solomon said.
The Pre-Law Society is following Harvard SCAS’s organizational structure and working collaboratively with them to review legal research in California before the group becomes completely 5C-led.
In the club’s Jan. 27 email to students seeking volunteers, leaders wrote that they hope to parallel Harvard SCAS’s mission statement to “empower socioeconomically disadvantaged people in order for them to seek legal redress effectively through the small claims system, and to protect their rights as consumers, tenants, and members of [their] community.”
According to Rasleen Krupp, the co-executive director of Harvard’s SCAS, the service trains student volunteers for a semester about small claims law to then provide legal information and help clients navigate the litigation process.
“[We]’re filling that gap of legal information that’s often difficult to access just because it’s hard to go through [complicated] statute,” she said. “We just simplify that information in a way that provides accessibility for everyone.”
Krupp told TSL that SCAS is a unique way for students to “try out law.” The service allows students to impact their community by connecting directly with the people they’re going to help. She said SCAS at Harvard has been a great way to get out of the college community bubble and connect with the outside community.
Besides external impacts, Krupp emphasized the importance of students knowing small claims law to be aware of their own rights, especially for purchasing items or renting homes.
The 5Cs’ SCAS will be the first of its kind in California. Henry Austin, the outreach director for this initiative, explained that the partnership with the Claremont Colleges is part of the larger effort to reach communities beyond the state and expand the resource network established by Harvard’s SCAS.
Austin explained that Harvard SCAS is now working with the Scripps Pre-Law Society to research all topics covered by small claims courts in California and compile that information into a guide that will be posted online in the form of a wiki.
The organization can then use the information to train volunteers and fuel its future. As the 5Cs will be one of two new Harvard SCAS cross-state implementations, Claremont SCAS will serve as a model that future SCAS organizations can implement nationwide.
“I’m feeling really excited … and creating a scalable model, I think, has the potential to be really, really powerful for a lot of people,” Austin added.
Michelle Lee PO ’25 joined Claremont SCAS and is now a legal research lead. Lee, who had professional experience in law in high school, saw SCAS as the perfect opportunity to connect her career aspirations with community service.
“[All] of the people leading the initiative are very passionate and driven about helping … those who lack the resources to seek professional advice navigate the legal system,” Lee told TSL via email. “I am really excited about SCAS’s prospects and I’m confident that we will be able to make a lasting impact in this sphere.”