Bronx Defenders Externship on Holistic Defense
Robin Steinberg and co-instructor TBD, Lecturers-in-Law (2 academic and 2 clinical credits)
An arrest is never just an arrest. It can prompt the child welfare system to take an infant from a mother's custody, trigger deportation proceedings for a legal permanent resident, and cause the public housing authority to throw an entire family into the street. An arrest is simply the first stone in an avalanche of dire legal and social consequences.
This externship immerses students in the cutting edge of defense work on the frontier of civil rights in the South Bronx - the poorest congressional district in the country. A person of color living in the Bronx is more likely to be stopped and frisked by the police, arrested, evicted, enter a homeless shelter, be on welfare, or have their children removed than a resident of any other county in New York State. Learn interdisciplinary approaches to solving these problems at a defender office with the rare commitment to addressing root problems, to serving the client, not processing the case. Course content and fieldwork will train students as future holistic lawyers offering seamless access to services that meet clients' legal and social support needs; engaging in the dynamic and interdisciplinary exchange of information, ideas, and strategy; constantly developing and improving an interdisciplinary skill set; and seeking a robust understanding of, and connection to, the community served.
The weekly classroom component of the Holistic Defender Externship will take place at Columbia, where lecturers-in-law will help the students contextualize their experiences with their clients and the justice system. By addressing topics like racial and class disparity in the justice system, policing policy, and the social history of the South Bronx, students will be able to locate their experiences of individual client representation in the broader discussions of normative social, political, and economic policy. Role playing, simulations, as well as background reading and real-world case studies, will help inform students, and lead them toward a mastery of both the theoretical underpinnings of holistic advocacy and the practical aspects of actual client representation.
Learning Through Doing - the Placement
By engaging students in the representation of real clients - not only in the criminal justice context, but in the civil, housing, immigration and family arenas as well - the externship will expose students to the integrated team-based holistic model that The Bronx Defenders has pioneered.
The Bronx Defenders' award-winning collaborative approach brings together interdisciplinary work groups combining criminal defense and civil lawyers, social workers, investigators, and family court advocates to address not just the immediate criminal or family court case, but also the host of issues that drive individuals into the system. This holistic defense approach regularly engages with the client community and pushes forward positive policy change by utilizing legislative, litigation and community organizing strategies. The Bronx Defenders has gained national and international notoriety for advancing this holistic defense model.
Holistic defense merges aggressive legal advocacy with a client-centered approach that works to address both the causes and consequences of involvement with the criminal justice system. At the heart of holistic advocacy is a commitment to client-centered representation, defining a client not by her case but by the needs she identifies. Being an effective, compassionate, and zealous advocate means taking on the responsibility of addressing those issues that are driving clients into the criminal and family justice systems. Holistic advocacy contemplates creating a legal "home" for clients where they can seamlessly access legal representation in criminal, immigration, housing, and family court, as well as benefits advocacy and civil rights. Clients can also work with social workers and parent advocates in securing social service intervention and support when needed. Finally, holistic advocacy means being a part of the client community and collaborating with Bronx community partners to find ways to address the broader systemic problems that lead to the over incarceration and arrest.
Client-centered representation requires fierce and zealous advocacy with the clients' goals as the compass. It requires creativity, focus, and commitment. Students will learn these skills through 10 hours of field work each week representing clients. Students will be assigned to one of the practice areas (Criminal Defense, Family Defense, Civil Action, Policy & Community Development) that interests them most. Every student will have a mentor from the chosen practice area and will attend weekly cross-discipline "team meetings" during which all seminar students and their supervisors meet to comprehensively review the specific needs of individual clients and formulate a multi-jurisdictional litigation strategy that aims for the best possible life outcome for the client. Because they are all representing the same group of clients, each of whom have complicated, multi-jurisdictional legal needs, every student will be exposed in a collaborative way to the strategic insights gleaned by their fellow students with differing specialties.
Requirements & Application Process
Students will receive four credits - two graded academic credits for the seminar and two ungraded clinical credits for their fieldwork. The seminar will be graded on weekly class participation, class presentations, and periodic short reflection papers on readings and fieldwork. The course will be limited to 8-12 students to facilitate active engagement and contribution by all. The course will be taught in fall and spring, and is open to JD and LL.M candidates. There are no prerequisites to take this course other than a passion for service in low-income communities.
To apply, please submit a short cover letter describing your interest and any relevant background in the course and a resume to Velvet Sanchez (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 5pm on Monday, April 7th. Prospective course participants will be interviewed.