Outline and Boxes on a Blue Blackground

Social Justice and Human Rights

In the fight against persistent injustice and inequity at home and abroad, lawyers serving the public interest can be powerful advocates for equal economic opportunity, criminal justice reform, racial justice, gender equality, immigrants’ rights, and fair housing.

How can lawyers and the law create a more just society and advance the basic rights of individuals around the world?

Columbia Law School expertly trains and nurtures lawyers who use their skills to create positive change. Since the early days of the U.S. civil rights movement, Columbia Law faculty and alumni have had pivotal roles in social justice and human rights organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United Nations, and Amnesty International. More recently, they have served as driving forces behind concepts such as intersectionality and critical race theory. The Law School continues to equip lawyers to use their skills for creating positive change in all aspects of society.

Why Columbia?

Faculty who are deeply involved in promoting justice and equality in the United States and around the world.

A robust social justice and human rights curriculum that includes foundational teaching in civil and human rights and lawyering for change.

Summer funding—among the most generous at U.S. law schools—for students to gain public interest experience before embarking on their job search. 

Numerous post-graduate fellowships that provide Columbia Law alumni with financial support for public interest work and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program.

Advanced seminars that cover topics including capital punishment, critical debates within the field of intersectionality studies, and human rights reparations under domestic and international law.

The Public Interest/Public Service Fellows program, which offers students a supportive community, connections with mentors, professional development and reflective learning opportunities, and specialized career and curricular counseling throughout their three years at the Law School.

Human Rights Fellowships for LL.M. students, which provide financial support and tailored skills and career development.

Clinics in which students successfully advocate for change in human rights, immigrants’ rights, juvenile justice, and mass incarceration. 

Externships with legal aid organizations to explore how the law can remedy systemic problems in health justice, housing, immigration, and incarceration through impact litigation, representation, and grassroots advocacy.

“Clinics are aimed at providing pro bono representation, but we do it with a very low caseload so that we can spend a lot of time teaching the students to practice law. We teach what we call client-centered lawyering, and we believe that students learn as much about the social challenges underlying the legal issues from the clients as they do from the faculty.”
—Brett Dignam, Clinical Professor Emerita of Law

Related Faculty

Philip Genty

Philip M. Genty

  • Everett B. Birch Innovative Teaching Clinical Professor in Professional Responsibility; Vice Dean for Experiential Education
Sarah Knuckey

Sarah M. Knuckey

  • Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann and Bernstein Clinical Professor of Human Rights
Susan Sturm

Susan P. Sturm

  • George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility
Professor Harold Edgar

Harold S. Edgar

  • Julius Silver Professor Emeritus of Law, Science and Technology

Related Centers and Programs

Center for Constitutional Governance

The Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG) is a nonpartisan legal and policy organization devoted to the study of constitutional structure and authority. CCG invites academics, students, government officials, practitioners, and community members to engage with major constitutional and governance issues of the day, from health care to civil rights, immigration, financial regulation, and national security. 


Center for Institutional and Social Change

The Center for Institutional and Social Change facilitates collaboration between scholars, practitioners, and students striving to address structural inequality through institutional transformation. Participants use brainstorming, strategic analysis, and empirical and field research to develop new frameworks, strategies, and roles for effective institutional and social change.


Human Rights Institute

The Human Rights Institute draws on the Law School’s deep human rights tradition to support and influence human rights practice in the United States and around the world. The institute builds bridges between scholarship and practice in four key areas—counterterrorism and armed conflict, human rights in the U.S., the Inter-American Human Rights System, and the global economy—employing tools such as field work, advocacy, fact-finding reports, and symposia.

Center for Public Research and Leadership

The Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) aims to revitalize public education while filling substantial gaps in professional education. CPRL’s rigorous coursework, skills training, and research and consulting projects prepare graduate students in law, business, and public policy for careers in the education sector. With an eye toward improving outcomes for all children, CPRL utilizes the latest techniques in education, such as organizational design, democratic accountability, team-based problem-solving skills, and socio-emotional learning. Students can also participate in a semster-long intensive around transformational change in public education by enrolling in the Public Education Policy Lab-Seminar and Skills courses. 


Experiential Learning Opportunities

Close up of the columns of the Supreme Court building with an American flag and the US Capitol in the background

Public Interest/Public Service

No matter what your area of interest, find ways to incorporate public interest and public service into your academic program and career.

Academics Careers