El Centro Legal was originally founded in 1973 by UCLA La Raza Law Students Association as an experimental academic program involving its members and low-income residents of Santa Monica. The program took on the name of El Centro Legal de Santa Monica, placing special emphasis on addressing the needs of the Latino population. The El Centro program proved successful in meeting the needs of low-income people in the community, while at the same time providing practical experience for UCLA Law students.
Over the years, El Centro broadened its scope to provide volunteer legal clinics throughout greater Los Angeles in many different areas of law. El Centro Legal is currently one of the largest student organizations at UCLA School of Law and an integral part of the local community.