The Equality Concentration examines the meaning of equality, the ways the law promotes or limits equality, and whether the professional role of the lawyer enhances equality for the client and for society. The doctrinal objective is to give a basic familiarity with specific constitutional and statutory sources for civil rights. The substantive areas studied are employment discrimination and Section 1983 actions against governmental entities, including police misconduct claims (Civil Rights Act of 1871). Issues of race and sex, such as racial and sexual harassment in the workplace, are examined in addition to issues of affirmative action, sexual orientation, disability, and age. The basic legal theories of discrimination, disparate impact and disparate treatment are applicable throughout civil rights law and litigation, and public policy and legislative advocacy.
Students engage in this examination through both a classroom seminar, which includes simulated lawyering exercises, "rounds" where the students discuss legal and ethical issues from their placements, and working two days a week in a field placement under the supervision of a staff attorney and consultation with Concentration faculty. The placements provide a variety of opportunities involving litigation and non-litigation lawyering skills, such as drafting court complaints, participating in preparing for and observing depositions or mediations, participation in settlement conferences, and might involve public policy advocacy, depending on the student's learning goals.
The field placements include such legal organizations as Center for Constitutional Rights, private civil rights practitioners, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the New York State Attorney General Office, Civil Rights and Labor Bureaus, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York State Division for Human Rights, National Employment Law Project, the National Labor Relations Board, District Council 37 Union, and Latino Justice- PRLDEF (formerly Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund). Some of the past placements have also included related equality issues such as environmental racism, gay rights, low wage and immigrant workers' rights, labor rights, and children's rights.
Highlights of the Equality Concentration
- Lawyering tasks: Students are assigned to "law firms" and collaborate in lawyering exercises representing individuals and organizations that include interviewing clients, factual development of a case, drafting legal memorandum, preparing discovery plans, drafting a court complaint, drafting a demand letter and a electronic discovery hold, drafting a motion in limine, preparing or opposing a motion for summary judgment, including a Rule 56 statement or counterstatement of material fact (one of the most critical components of litigation in any civil law area), the role of expert witnesses, and conducting examinations in a trial setting.
- Advocacy in various settings, including court and arbitration setting and in roles as judge or attorney, focusing on civil rights matters.
- Affirmative Action: Law firms present evidence and arguments concerning a claim of race discrimination in a challenge to an alleged affirmative action plan at a public law school.
Students work in a variety of public interest and civil rights practices that give them an experiential base to enhance their thinking about the doctrinal, theoretical and lawyering issues raised in the course. For example, some students working for civil rights law firms investigate discrimination complaints and apply the doctrine learned in class. They might conduct extensive factual inquiries, prepare for and observe depositions, participate in settlement conferences or mediation efforts, and prepare for trial. These tasks involve the lawyering skills of research, analysis, interviewing, mediation, as well as other forms of fact investigation such as depositions.
Other students work in national legal defense organizations where legal research and writing is the exclusive work of the semester. Some students choose to focus on public policy advocacy. The students' actual casework creates concrete situations for the discussion of several issues: the allocation of scarce resources within civil rights firms, the programmatic decisions that are made as a result of scarce resources, the effectiveness of passing legislation to address inequality, and the role that public interest lawyers can play in promoting equality.
During weekly rounds meetings, students discuss the work they are doing in their placements. These discussions provide an opportunity for students to collaborate and generate alternative approaches to particular legal problems and consider related ethical and professional responsibility issues. Additionally, each student will teach an inter-active class concerning an issue or case on which he/she is working at his/her field placement.
Many Equality Concentration graduates have obtained employment practicing civil rights law, including employment discrimination. Some of our placements have hired our students and some of our field placement supervisors are CUNY Law School and Equality Concentration alumni. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission New York District Office employs two graduates as trial attorneys. Two of our recent grads have been selected for the highly competitive and prestigious EEOC Honors Program. One, based in Washington D.C. is arguing federal appeals throughout the country.
The Legal Director of the Michigan Civil Liberties Union and the Legislative Counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union are graduates of the Concentration. A number of small civil rights firms have hired our students and quite a few of our graduates have started their own civil rights firms. Many of our students have sought and obtained employment in other areas of law, such as personal injury and criminal defense, including the Legal Aid Society or prosecution.
Others are teaching at law schools. Three Equality Concentration students have been awarded Skadden Arps Fellowships and a number have received PILA fellowships. Producing high quality work through commitment and thoroughness is the most important factor in obtaining employment. References from faculty and field placement supervisors citing a student's quality of work are extremely helpful.