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?

Explore a robust curriculum that provides a solid grounding in civil and human rights and in lawyering for change, led by faculty deeply involved in promoting justice and equality around the world. In advanced seminars, learn about topics including capital punishment, poverty law, critical debates within the field of intersectionality studies, and human rights reparations under domestic and international law.

Advocate for change while practicing in clinics focused on human rights, immigrants’ rights, juvenile justice, and mass incarceration. Learn how impact litigation, representation, and grassroots advocacy can help remedy systemic problems in health justice, housing, immigration, and incarceration through externships with legal aid organizations.

Gain practical experience through summer funding—among the most generous at U.S. law schools—for public interest jobs. After graduation, the Loan Repayment Assistance Program and post-graduate fellowships provide Columbia Law alumni with financial support for public interest work. 

Become a Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program to access a supportive community, connections with mentors, professional development and reflective learning opportunities, and specialized career and curricular counseling. For LL.M. candidates, Human Rights Fellowships provide financial support and tailored skills and career development.

“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

Professor Kate Andrias smiling

Kate Andrias

  • Patricia D. and R. Paul Yetter Professor of Law
Philip Genty

Philip M. Genty

  • Everett B. Birch Innovative Teaching Clinical Professor in Professional Responsibility
Sarah Knuckey

Sarah Maree Knuckey

  • Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann and Bernstein Clinical Professor of Human Rights
Professor Lynnise Pantin

Lynnise Pantin

  • Pritzker Pucker Family Clinical Professor of Transactional Law
Carol Sanger

Carol Sanger

  • Barbara Aronstein Black Professor Emerita of Law
Susan Sturm

Susan P. Sturm

  • George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility

Experiential Learning Opportunities

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. 


Areas of Study

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.