Social Change and Community-Based Lawyering Externships

Explore social change and community-based lawyering externships:

Tashi Lhewa and Shervon Small, Lecturers-in-Law, 4 credits (2 for the seminar; 2 for fieldwork)

Course Description
Students in the Economic Justice and Empowerment Externship will help economically disadvantaged New Yorkers with consumer debt, federal and state income tax disputes, and small business needs.

Students will work with experienced practitioners with The Legal Aid Society through the Harlem Office to offer legal services that empower and provide financial stability to clients. The experience will enhance the law students’ abilities as future lawyers and increase their understanding of the economic challenges faced by lower income New Yorkers and their families, while allowing space for students to reflect on the systems—societal, economic, legal, etc.—that impact clients’ daily lives. Students will gain hands-on experience in lawyering while simultaneously helping some of the most disadvantaged civil litigants obtain critical legal assistance in State courts, U.S. Tax Court, in administrative forums, and through transactional practice.

Seminar
In class, students will consider the various systems—societal, economic, legal, etc.—that impact our clients’ daily lives, will be expected to reflect on the systems and increases their understanding of the economic challenges faced by low-income New Yorkers and their families, and will critique and debate developing policies in class and consider economic justice can be attained by all. During field placements, students will gain hands-on lawyering experience helping some of the most disadvantaged civil litigants obtain critical legal assistance in State courts, U.S. Tax Court, in administrative forums, and through transactional practice.

Fieldwork
Students will work ten+ hours a week on cases at various stages alongside experienced practitioners.  They will have the opportunity to draft pleadings and participate in motion practice.  Students will accompany attorneys to court and, if appropriate, negotiate settlements and/or make arguments for cases before the New York City Civil Court. In addition to individual cases, students will have the option to partake in legislative or regulatory advocacy through legal research focused on expanding economic justice.  

Important Information
The course will be open to JD and LL.M candidates. There are no prerequisites for the course.

Jackeline Solivan and Matthew Tropp (2 for the seminar; 2 for fieldwork)

Course Description
Students in the Housing Justice Externship will explore the Right to Counsel model used in summary proceedings in NYC Housing Courts. In 2017, New York City enacted the first legislation in the country establishing a Universal Access to Counsel program (UAC) also known as the Right to Counsel (RTC) for all income-eligible tenants facing eviction. During an unprecedented pandemic, New York City amended the legislation to fully implement the Right to Counsel in Housing Court eviction proceedings and termination hearings at The New York City Housing Authority more than a year earlier than the original effective date. The original five-year phase-in was cut short and the right to a free attorney in Housing Court was fully realized beginning in June 2021.

The focus of the seminar will be to delve into the RTC model in New York City while using a critical racial lens to examine the systemic racism and inherent bias of the court system especially in its high-volume courts and how the system can be improved to provide low-income New Yorkers better access to justice. We will also explore the historical significance of RTC, its implementation and compare and contrast it with other jurisdictions.

The Seminar
The seminar will explore RTC as well as learn substantive areas of New York City housing law and litigation skills. The seminar classes will include discussions about housing policy and substantive laws, will include group and individual practical exercises, and discussions of students’ experiences from their field placements.  In addition to discussion of field work experiences and interactive classroom exercises, students will engage with guest speakers from throughout The Legal Aid Society, the Housing Court, and the housing advocacy and policy community.  The guests will lend their expertise on particular subjects.

Fieldwork
Each student will be assigned to a field placement within the Bronx Neighborhood Office at The Legal Aid Society. This will be a clinical, hands-on experience with the primary practical goal learning how to represent low-income tenants in summary proceedings in Bronx Housing Court. Students in the externship will work on real cases and learn about the different types of summary proceedings in Housing Court as well as how to issue spot and litigate appropriate defenses. They will also learn about the vast array of rental subsidies and rent arrears grants that can be accessed to preserve affordable housing in NYC. Students will be expected to dedicate an average of 10 hours each week to their fieldwork.

Important Information
The course will be open to JD and LL.M candidates.

Andrew Friedman and Dmitri Holtzman and Kumar Rao, Lecturers-in-Law, 4 credits (2 for the seminar; 2 for fieldwork)

Course Description
This externship will expose students to the varied and important roles that lawyers play in policy experimentation and innovation in states and cities across the country. Course content and fieldwork will focus on how lawyers can support community-conceived policy initiatives at the city and state level - from analyzing constraints on local authority to drafting policy proposals to engaging in the political fight to win passage. Substantive issues covered in the seminar, and the fieldwork assignments, will include workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights and immigration reform, civil rights and racial justice issues, health care access, and more.

The externship will comprise (a) a weekly, 2-hour seminar, focused on core legal issues and academic literature bearing on state and local policymaking, law and organizing, and effective policy advocacy and (b) 11 hours per week of fieldwork in ongoing policy initiatives with The Action Lab, the Center for Working Families or the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD).

The Seminar
The weekly seminars will be focused on core legal issues and academic literature bearing on state and local policymaking, law and organizing, and effective policy advocacy

Fieldwork
Students are expected to do 11 hours per week of fieldwork to support ongoing policy initiatives with the Action Lab, the Center for Working Families or the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD).

Justice Rosalyn Richter, Lecturer-in-Law (2 graded academic and 2 ungraded fieldwork credits)

This externship is only offered in the Spring semester

Course Description
This externship offers students an opportunity to represent and work directly with domestic violence survivors in civil cases under the supervision of Justice Richter and lawyers for Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization.  The externship will focus on economic issues including child support, spousal support, public benefits, and credit repair. 

The current economic crisis and the social isolation during the pandemic has created an increase in domestic violence and there is an urgent need for legal assistance. Sanctuary clients are facing many issues trying to obtain unemployment and public assistance benefits and need to challenge denial of benefits in some cases. In addition, there will be a significant volume of child support modification cases because the client or payor partner/spouse is now unemployed. If the law school is operating remotely, students still will be able to participate in these proceedings since both Sanctuary and the courts have remote capacity. The externship also will explore the impact of the court closures during the pandemic on domestic violence survivors’ abilities to obtain justice and students will be working on cutting edge issues arising out of the government closure orders.

The Seminar
In the weekly seminar, students will learn about the cycles of domestic violence, the economic challenges facing survivors and their children, New York Family Court and Supreme Court procedures, and enforcement mechanisms for support orders.  Students also will learn client interviewing techniques, as well as how to prepare financial statements and read tax returns.  In some cases, students may work on equitable distribution issues and learn how to find hidden assets or income. 

Fieldwork
Students will prepare clients for their court appearances, and represent them in Family and Supreme Court under supervision.  This will include preparing direct and cross examination, opening and closing statements, and any written memoranda that the court requires. Providing legal services in these economic cases is essential if survivors are to gain economic independence.  Recent studies have shown that providing survivors with appropriate benefits and support has the potential to prevent homelessness.  Although domestic violence survivors are entitled to court appointed counsel in some cases, they do not receive such counsel in most of these cases.  This externship will allow Sanctuary for Families to increase the legal services they provide to survivors and allow students to gain important practical courtroom skills.

Important Information
The course will be limited to 8 students and will be open to JD and LL.M candidates. There are no prerequisites for this course.

To apply, please complete the externship application available through LawNet. The application period can be found on the Experiential Learning home page (https://law.columbia.edu/academics/experiential). Prospective applicants may be contacted for an interview once all applications have been submitted.