from Derrick Howard, co-chair for CLEA’s Social Justice Issues Committee
If you stop random people on the street to ask how they define social justice, you are likely to receive varying responses that collectively reflect social justice is equal access to wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. Within those broad parameters, social justice relates to the environment, race, gender, sustainable development goals, responses to humanitarian crisis, and other causes and manifestations of inequality. Digging deeper to further define this concept may also reveal that the victims of social injustice are everywhere, including our neighborhoods, our communities, and even our classrooms. Victims of social injustice frequently include the poor, but also encompass individuals and groups who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise discriminated against.
Many law students attend law school with the intention of learning how they can use their knowledge and skills to assist marginalized groups and individuals, change current oppressive political and economic systems, and use legal strategies to advance social justice. However, there are many factors that deter law students from truly achieving such lofty goals. These factors include: the culture and pedagogy of legal education that produces more aspiring corporate lawyers than attorneys dedicated to protecting the interests of underrepresented or indigent clients; rising tuition and debt that limit choices law school graduates have to pursue careers at nonprofits; and the subtle pressure law students feel to abandon the political and moral values that initially informed their decision to become lawyers.
To shed light on the efforts of CLEA’s members to combat social injustice, CLEA’s Social Justice Issues Committee has been charged with “[disseminating] information regarding CLEA-supported social justice endeavors and projects as well as diversity issues." Through this and future blogs we hope to attract volunteers to commit to writing a blog-style, op-ed-style, or newspaper-article-style post about an ongoing social justice project or resource available within CLEA's community. The Social Justice Issues Committee intends to roll out the posts we receive beginning in April 2019 and posting one every month. We will post them on the CLEA website and share them through the CLEA social media platforms, the listservs, and the Clinical Law Prof blog. We hope we have a good impact, amplify some important stories, and build a foundation for future work.
There are daily reminders in the media, social networks, and hallway conversations that the world is at a defining moment for collective action against social injustice. We know anecdotally that there are many courses and programs offered at law schools around the country that promote opportunities for students to help others while learning valuable lawyering skills. For example, earlier this year, students from The University of California, Berkeley, School of Law traveled to Mexico to provide pro bono assistance to members of the migrant caravan seeking asylum in the United States. The legal services the migrants received included know-your-rights training, legal orientation workshops, and direct legal services. The students learned first-hand that the opportunity to be a practicing attorney brings with it the responsibility to use their skills to address social injustice. Berkeley’s Pro Bono Program sponsored the trip in connection with a legal services nonprofit.
We want to hear from you! Are you working on something exciting, innovative, or interesting that advances social justice goals? Know someone who is?
Let us know. Email the Social Justice Issues Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and we may feature your work in an upcoming article.