The Detroit Justice Center (DJC) is a non-profit law firm working alongside communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities.
We work with a three-prong approach to racial and economic justice that we categorize as “Defense, Offense, and Dreaming.” “Defense” consists of our direct services and advocacy around issues that our clients face in their day-to-day lives. In our defense work, we are fighting against a criminal legal system that keeps people locked in cycles of poverty by providing counsel and advocating for policy changes that would have an impact on our clients’ lives. “Offense” is the work of ensuring that communities can build towards a more just and equitable future together through mechanisms like community land trusts, co-operative economic structures and community reinvestment. Our “Dreaming” work focuses on narrative shifting work which envisions a future where every life is valued equally and includes the work of our Just Cities Lab as well as our artist residency.
Movement Lawyering is not a specific type of law, rather a specific way of doing your job as a lawyer. DJC’s attorneys all practice movement lawyering as much of the ethos of movement lawyering is embedded in our values. It is lawyering in a way that centers relationships and the people organizing on the ground. It is about relationship building, building trust with people; thus building the community first, then the institution to hold it. The key to movement lawyering is asking people what they need, delivering, and repeating. Movement lawyers make space for, bolster, protect, and build power of organized people. Our work is based on the theory of change that sustainable social change occurs when directly impacted people take collective action, lead their own struggles and gain power to change the conditions of oppression. Our work is in service to movements, and we recognize the importance of decentering attorneys as experts, or relying on litigation or other legal strategies at the expense of direct organizing.
We see our work in the lineage of abolitionist thinkers and consider Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s framework of “abolition as presence” in all aspects of our work. While we fight to end incarceration and policing for the safety and well-being of our communities, we must also focus on what we are building in place of those systems. This is why we ask community members what they would build instead of jails and prisons, or what they would like to see police department budgets spent on to keep their communities safe. For us, abolition is a lived practice centered around meeting the needs of everyone equally, where equity is a cornerstone and not an afterthought.
It is important to us that our work as movement lawyers extends to the next generation, which is why we host a summer movement lawyering internship with like-minded organizations across the country. We know that most law students don’t receive robust training in movement lawyering as part of their education, and we seek to supplement their education with practical skills and tools that we use in our own practice. We also work with the National Conference of Black Lawyers to bring new lawyers into the fold in local gatherings.