The Civil Rights Litigation Initiative will be offered for the first time during the winter semester of 2020. It will provide students with the unique opportunity to work on important civil rights cases in a clinical setting. Taught by the former long-time legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, the goal of the course is to prepare students to use the law to advance social justice.
While the types of cases will vary from semester to semester, students will have the opportunity to work on litigation addressing one or more of the following issues: fair housing, student rights, racial justice, police misconduct, immigrant rights, free speech, women's rights, LGBT rights, ethnic and religious discrimination, voting rights, disability rights and the right to privacy. Students will work on civil rights cases on behalf of individuals as well as larger impact cases.
Students, under faculty supervision, will gain experience in many of the following areas: working with impacted communities to identify injustices; researching and developing winning legal theories; interviewing potential clients; writing public record requests and demand letters; drafting complaints; researching and writing briefs; arguing motions; taking depositions and engaging in other discovery; negotiating settlements; trying cases; drafting appellate briefs; and arguing appeals. It is anticipated that students will work primarily in federal court and will learn how to avoid the many procedural minefields that civil rights litigants face when seeking injunctive relief or recovering damages under 42 U.S.C. section 1983.
The course will also emphasize how litigation can be most effective in achieving change when it is a part of an "integrated advocacy" campaign that includes public education, legislation and/or community action. Students will be encouraged to work in coalitions and with community groups to win not only in the court of law, but also in the court of public opinion.
The Civil Rights Litigation Practicum (Law 807) -- formerly called "Public Interest Litigation" -- is a prerequisite for the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative. Students must take the Initiative for a letter grade; it is ineligible for letter grade conversion to pass ("P") election. It fulfills the Law School's professional responsibility requirement for graduation and the New York Pro-Bono requirement, but not the New York State Bar ethics requirement. The Initiative can either fulfill the Law School's professional responsibility requirement for graduation or the credits can count toward the Experiential Learning requirement, but not both.