Equality & Justice Practice Clinic

 

Our Equality and Justice Practice Clinic examines the meaning of equality, the ways the law promotes or limits equality, and whether a lawyer’s role enhances equality for the client and for society. In this practice clinic, you will work with civil rights lawyers in New York City litigating and advocating on behalf of clients to eradicate discrimination based on racial, gender, national origin, disability, and LGBTQ characteristics.

Equality & Justice Practice Clinics Highlights

  • 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 preservation hold, drafting a motion in limine, preparing or opposing a motion for summary judgment (one of the most critical components of litigation in any civil law area), including a Rule 56 statement or counterstatement of material fact), an factual affirmation, arguing the motion, 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.


Program Overview

The Equality and Justice Practice Clinic 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, LGBTQ, national origin, language, 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 civil rights field placement under the supervision of a staff attorney and consultation with Practice Clinic faculty.

 

Field Placements

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 interview and gather facts from clients, investigate discrimination complaints, draft court complaints, and apply the doctrine learned in class. They might conduct extensive factual inquiries through the discovery process such as preparing for and observing depositions, participate in court settlement conferences or mediation efforts, and prepare for and assist at trials. These tasks involve the lawyering skills of research, analysis, interviewing, mediation, and legal writing. 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, different advocacy styles, 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.

The field placements include private civil rights practitioners, such as Beldock Levine &Hoffman and legal organizations such as Center for Constitutional Rights,Latino Justice-PRLDEF (formerly Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund), NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF), The New York Civil Liberties Union, The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, ACLU Racial Justice Project, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., 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 City Commission for Human Rights, National Employment Law Project, District Council 37 Union. Some of the past placements have also included related equality issues such as environmental racism, LGBTQ rights, low wage and immigrant workers' rights, labor rights, and children's rights.

 

Rounds

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.

 

Employment Prospects

Many Equality Practice & Justice Clinic graduates have obtained employment practicing civil rights law, including employment discrimination and police misconduct. Some of our placements have hired our students and some of our field placement supervisors are CUNY Law School and Equality Practice Clinic alumni, including in their own civil rights firms. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission New York District Office employs two graduates now as Administrative Law Judges hearing cases of employment discrimination (previously one served as Regional Counsel and the other as a Senior Trial Attorney). Three of our 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 Practice Clinic. Some work for the Urban Justice Center and Make the Road. 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 housing defense in legal services, immigrant rights, personal injury and criminal defense, including the Legal Aid Society or prosecution.

One was appointed U.S. Magistrate-Judge, after working in the NYC Law Department and the NYS Power Authority. Others are teaching at law schools. Four Equality Practice Clinic 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.