PLSE provides free legal advice and representation to low-income Philadelphia residents whose criminal records are holding them back from achieving their social and career potentials. PLSE seeks a more equitable social environment for those with criminal records through individual representation, strategic litigation, community education, research and advocacy. PLSE does this by seeking expungements in criminal court and pardons from the Governor; educating elected, business, and community leaders; empowering and organizing under-resourced communities; and leading legislative, administrative and systemic reform.
PLSE was founded in 2010 by three Philadelphia-based civil rights lawyers – Ryan Allen Hancock, Michael Hollander, and Michael Lee – who wanted to create an alternative model that brought legal services directly into the communities most affected by criminal history record information and other social justice inequities. At the time, Ryan was Assistant Chief Counsel with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Mike Hollander was a Skadden Fellow with Community Legal Services (CLS), and Mike Lee was a criminal defense attorney not long out of Drexel University’s Law School.
The idea for PLSE was summarized in a grant proposal submitted by the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild in November 2009 and signed by Ryan:
“Criminal records present a significant obstacle to employment for thousands of Philadelphians. Because of structural and cultural inequities, a criminal history disadvantages people of color and the poor. We hope to reduce the effect of these records through efforts on four fronts:
1. Educational seminars including “know your rights” training and information on how to clean up a criminal record.
2. CLEs to train attorneys in Philadelphia to perform pardons and expungements.
3. Direct service work to prepare and file expungement petitions for Philadelphians.
4. Political advocacy work to reduce the impact of criminal records through an expansion of the expungement statutes.
We aim to complete these goals through the support of the legal community and those affected by criminal records.”