Collaboration and Community: Vanderbilt Law Clinics and the Elmahaba Center

May 2, 2022

Because Vanderbilt Law School’s seven legal clinics function as one firm, students enrolled in different clinics often have opportunities to collaborate with one another. Cross-clinic collaboration enriches Vanderbilt Law students’ professional development by exposing them to a wider array of legal issues and clients than they would otherwise see, and provides clients with a more well-rounded set of services to meet their legal needs. 


During the 2021–22 academic year, students in the Housing Law Clinic, the Youth Opportunity Clinic, and the Community Enterprise Clinic had the opportunity to indirectly collaborate through their work with the Elmahaba Center. The Elmahaba Center is a nonprofit organization that works with several traditionally underserved South Nashville communities, with a primary emphasis on providing broad-based support services to Nashville’s Arabic-speaking communities. Because these three clinics helped the Elmahaba community in different ways, this indirect clinical collaboration provided Vanderbilt students with holistic exposure to the multifaceted needs of this diverse community. 


The COVID-19 pandemic and spiraling rents have made the nationwide housing crisis hit Nashville especially hard, and South Nashville has one of the highest rates of eviction in the Nashville area. In fall 2021, students in the Housing Law Clinic made themselves available at several Elmahaba Center community events aimed at helping Arabic-speaking Nashvillians facing housing challenges. Through participating at these events Housing Law Clinic students saw firsthand the housing issues this community grapples with, provided support to people at high risk of becoming unhoused, and became a referral source for individuals needing immediate housing-related legal assistance. 


The Arabic-speaking community is an important and growing part of Nashville’s small business landscape, and in fall 2021, six student attorneys in the Community Enterprise Clinic livestreamed two workshops for the Elmahaba Center. These workshops focused on business structures and risk management strategies, and each attracted over one thousand viewers. “The workshop was an enlightening and rewarding experience,” said Nick Mack (’22), one of these six students. “I learned a lot about the practical legal problems in the community, and saw how helpful even one hour of guidance could be for businesses without access to legal services.” 


Additionally, through its work with the Elmahaba Center, the Youth Opportunity Clinic has become a welcome resource for Arabic-speaking families who are navigating issues within the school system. In fall 2021, YOC students led an hourlong know-your-rights and informational training for the Elmahaba community. Since then, the Youth Opportunity Clinic has strengthened its partnership with Elmahaba through education advocacy referrals, both formal and word-of-mouth, within the Elmahaba community. YOC student Marie Naguib (’22), who helped lead the training presentation, had a strong personal connection to her work with the Elmahaba Center, as she herself is from a Coptic and Arabic-speaking community. “Having the opportunity to draw on my cultural and religious background to connect with the Arabic-speaking listeners at Elmahaba was one of the highlights during my time in the clinic.”


Vanderbilt Law School’s legal clinics are excited to continue working with the Elmahaba Center, and to providing holistic legal support and assistance, in the years ahead. 

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