Accurate Fact: If You Want To Support Social Justice, Engage With Our Law Schools
On January 21, I marched with thousands of men, women, children, family, friends and strangers in Seattle, across the country and around the world. Many marchers wore pink hats, signaling support for women’s rights. Yet, the signs people carried demonstrated that we were marching in support of all aspects of social justice, including protection for civil rights, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, the environment, access to affordable health care and religious freedom. As the local, national and international participation estimates grew, I felt my sense of hope for the future reviving and today I am walking with a lighter step, a brighter smile and a renewed sense of determination.
Each of the issues reflected in the marchers’ signs intersects with the law. The pathway forward will necessarily be shaped by lawyers, particularly lawyers dedicated to public service. Much of the work is legally and personally challenging, requiring a tireless commitment to public service and the rule of law. It is not particularly rewarding financially, but it offers a tremendous opportunity to make a difference for individuals in our community and across the country.
One reason we should be hopeful about the future for social justice is that law schools — including our own Seattle University (SU) and University of Washington (UW) law schools — are intentionally preparing young lawyers to meet today’s challenges by pairing traditional doctrinal education with experiential learning that emphasizes access to justice as a guiding principle. Law students are embracing our professional responsibility to engage in public service.
The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct emphasize that every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay and should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year. Survey results released by the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) in early January reveal that during 2016 approximately 18,000 law students representing 80 AALS-accredited law schools volunteered more than 2.2 million hours through clinics, experiential courses and student-led or community-based pro bono activities.
At SU, law students reported donating more than 12,500 hours to pro bono and community service activities during the 2015–16 academic year. Most of these activities were organized through SU’s Access to Justice Institute (ATJI), which functions as a clearinghouse connecting students to outside nonprofits and advocacy groups in need of volunteer services. ATJI also provides training to prepare students to volunteer in a professional legal setting.
Similarly, UW’s Center for Public Service Law assists students in pursuing pro bono opportunities at UW, in the community or through student-led legal action projects such as the Immigrant Families Project and the Immigration Application Assistance Project through which students assist staff attorneys at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project with visa applications and asylum petitions. At UW, as of spring 2016, 52 students reported donating 4,691 law-related pro bono hours during the 2015–16 academic year.
With respect to credit-bearing activities, both law schools support robust in-house clinical programs that permit students to represent clients, under faculty supervision and with the guidance of experienced practicing attorneys. Clinics address civil rights, immigration, juvenile justice, wage and labor issues, human rights, environmental law and policy, and issues affecting the tribes. Where clinic offerings are unique, the schools exchange available spaces. UW students can participate in the SU Workers Rights Clinic and SU students can participate in UW’s Federal Tax Clinic.
How do these clinic programs’ work? UW’s Race & Justice Clinic focuses on juvenile justice issues, with client intake provided through juvenile justice nonprofits and public defender organizations. Students work with clients on discipline, truancy and delinquency matters. They also engage in legal research and policy analysis focused on improving justice through changes to existing laws.
Similarly, UW’s Legislative Advocacy Clinic focuses on reforming laws that impact racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system, while its Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic pursues litigation and legislation addressing the need for youth in foster care to receive representation by public counsel in a range of cases, including alleged abuse and neglect. SU’s clinic programs are similarly relevant and productive in advancing access to justice.
Both schools offer unique opportunities for students to participate in credit-bearing and volunteer advocacy-related work addressing contemporary social justice issues. For example, through SU’s nationally recognized Korematsu Center, students worked on the amicus brief that the Center recently filed in the U.S. Supreme Court in Lee v Tam, a case addressing the constitutionality of laws authorizing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny or rescind registration of racially disparaging marks. Students in the Center’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project provide legal and policy research, analysis and advocacy examining the scope and severity of laws that unfairly target people who experience homelessness and create barriers to leaving the streets once a person becomes homeless.
Finally, it is not an “alternative fact” that both schools actively promote diversity and inclusion. Let’s look at the 1L orientation program implemented by SU’s Social Leadership Committee. It includes six hours of racial justice training for first-year students and requires their participation in one of 12 student/faculty racial justice reading groups. Through a guest lecture series titled “Intellectual Voices,” the Committee brings in legal scholars from around the country to speak on topics related to race and justice, such as Mario Barnes’s recent talk addressing why black lives matter.
This overview of what SU and UW law schools are doing to promote social justice is far from complete, but should reassure you that they are training tomorrow’s lawyers to meet today’s challenges. Graduates from these schools are an increasingly diverse and highly skilled group of young professionals, trained to be informed advisors, effective advocates and dedicated public servants.
KCBA supports the SU and UW law schools by welcoming student participation in its pro bono programs and providing (to date) more than $2.2 million in scholarship funds for minority law students. You too can lend support in one or more of the following ways:
• Offer your services to mentor or supervise students in one of their clinics or volunteer programs;
• Hire their graduates;
• Lead by example, showing them how to balance practice obligations with our professional responsibility to serve the public;
• Promote and support engagement by your partners, associates and colleagues in pro bono and other public service activities, including work on behalf of KCBA; and.
• Attend the annual Breakfast with Champions on March 30 and give generously to support the bar’s minority law student scholarship program and its pro bono programs.
Working in partnership with our law schools, law students, young lawyers and established practitioners, we can build a pathway forward that is shaped by the rule of law and a shared commitment to social justice.