On April 2-3, the Justice Center hosted civil rights lawyer Michael Allen, a partner in Relman, Dane & Colfax, as the G. Rollie White Scholar in Residence. Relman, Dane & Colfax is a civil rights law firm based in Washington, D.C., that litigates cases in the areas of housing, lending, employment, public accommodations, education, and police accountability.
Prior to joining his firm, Allen was Senior Staff Attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. He previously was an attorney with Legal Services of Northern Virginia from 1985 to 1995, with a focus on representing low-income clients in housing litigation and policy advocacy. In his private practice, Allen specializes in housing and disability rights impact litigation.
While at the law school, Allen gave a public address in the Eidman Courtroom about his cutting edge legal practice entitled “Using Modern Impact Litigation to Advance Civil Rights,” which was followed by a reception. He participated in two more law-related events at the law school that focused on fair housing and expanded access to housing for individuals with criminal justice involvement.
In the first event, Allen met with a small group of representatives from city, county, and private affordable housing entities, along with community development organizations, elected officials, and local housing advocates, to identify barriers that make it difficult for reentering individuals to obtain housing locally and brainstorm possible avenues for redress. For the second event, Allen, participated in a webinar for legal aid attorneys from across the state entitled “Returning Citizens and Fair Housing: Housing Needs & Barriers for Formerly Incarcerated Persons.” Texas Law Clinical Professor Eliza Platts-Mills and Senior Research Attorney Helen Gaebler, who also serves as co-chair of the local reentry roundtable, participated in both events.
Allen used the webinar to talk about using disparate impact and reasonable accommodation claims under the Fair Housing Act to challenge overly broad criminal background screens, highlighting recent case law involving the use of reasonable accommodation requests as a way to overcome criminal record barriers. Gaebler and Platts-Mills followed with a discussion of a new Texas Criminal Background Screening Guide for Rental Housing Providers, which was released by the Austin-Travis County Reentry Roundtable on April 2. The Guide was produced by the Roundtable with help from students in the Texas Law Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic and provides a set of best practices and recommended standards to guide housing providers who undertake criminal background checks.
During his visit, Allen also met informally with students for breakfast to discuss his trajectory from non-profit public interest work to a private firm working exclusively on civil rights cases. He encouraged students to think creatively about ways to accomplish their career objectives and serve their clients. After the breakfast, Allen met one-on-one with ten students to discuss their law school and postgraduate careers.
Allen’s visit as a G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar in Residence was supported by a generous gift from the G. Rollie White Trust. The program brings outstanding legal scholars, practitioners and advocates from the field of public service to Texas Law to foster discussion of issues related to public interest law, to raise the profile of lawyers working in this area, and to encourage students to view public service as an honored and expected part of every legal career. Allen is Texas Law’s seventh G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar in Residence.