Community Development and Economic Justice Clinic

LW.10172 / LW.11977
Professor Amy Tai
Professor Nasoan C. Sheftel-Gomes
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
Not offered 2015-16
Spring semester
5 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.

Course Description

The focus of this clinic clinic is the provision of civil legal services to grassroots community organizing groups that engage in a variety of community development, economic justice and social justice efforts. Students in the clinic will learn about “movement lawyering” and the benefits and challenges of lawyering in partnership and collaboration with the communities they work in.  Students will learn more about the different roles that lawyers can that lawyers can play in supporting campaigns led by communities to advance social change. Working with groups that are organizing low-income communities in New York City, students perform their fieldwork with attorneys from the Community Development Project (CDP) of the Urban Justice Center, and provide legal services to CDP’s clients throughout New York City focusing on workers’ rights, affordable housing, consumer protection, and capacity building for community based organizations.  As part of the fieldwork, students will work on litigation cases as well as research projects that help support and strengthen grassroots organizations’ organizing and advocacy efforts. Students may also work on transactional cases for CDP’s capacity building practice in which they offer legal advice and assistance to grassroots organizations in a variety of areas, such as incorporating an organization, drafting corporate governance documents,  applying for tax exempt status, forming of worker cooperatives, or negotiating land use and community benefit agreements.


The fieldwork for this clinic will be primarily or entirely conducted with CDP. Clinic students will have the opportunity to be involved in a litigation or transactional case as well as a legal research matter that supports the ongoing work of CDP and the organizations it supports.  The majority of the fieldwork will consist of litigation cases and related matters, such as drafting a demand letter on behalf of workers to obtain the unpaid wages owed by their employer.

The litigation matter will be in the areas of workers’ rights, affordable housing, and consumer justice. CDP uses litigation as a way to support grassroots organizing efforts in New York City. Litigation is developed in partnership with the organizations and usually arises out of issues facing their communities. The workers’ rights cases typically involve minimum wage and overtime violations, workplace discrimination, and retaliatory discharge. Plaintiffs in these cases could be workers in the restaurant, construction, nail salon, garment, food distribution, and domestic industries. The tenants’ rights cases involve representing tenant associations organized by community-based organizations in litigation to combat landlord abandonment, to seek repairs to bring buildings into compliance with the housing code, and to combat harassment and retaliation by landlords.

The consumer justice cases are varied, but often involve defending a client against an action by a creditor in court and representing clients on matters such as identity theft and unlawful debt collection abuse. Students’ litigation work will likely entail joining an existing team of lawyers working on an ongoing case, and will provide an opportunity to work directly with clients, strategize with co-counsel, research legal issues that arise, draft documents, and prepare for and observe depositions and court proceedings.

In transactional matters, students will have the opportunity to counsel and work directly with organizational clients, in addition to experience drafting documents for a grassroots organization on non-profit incorporation, corporate governance, tax exempt status, formation of worker cooperatives, or land use and community benefit agreements.

Students will work out of CDP’s offices and are expected to spend at least ten hours a week at CDP’s offices.  Direct interaction with the grassroots organizations’ staff and members will be an integral component of the fieldwork.

The Seminar

The seminar will meet weekly on Tuesday from 4:20 – 6:10 p.m. at CDP’s office located at 123 William Street, 16th Floor. (The main office of the Urban Justice Center is located at 40 Rector Street).

Classes will be participatory in nature, and students will be expected to discuss assigned readings and give presentations, discuss their fieldwork, prepare for and engage in simulations intended to sharpen practical lawyering skills, and write reflections throughout the semester.

The seminar will integrate substantive areas of law, including workers’ rights, tenants’ rights, consumer justice, and capacity building for organizations through the readings, class discussion, and simulations on the following topics: lawyers as resource allies for social change; law and organizing; ethical issues in group representation and movement lawyering; client interviewing and cultural competencies; case theory and client narrative; legal support to workers centers and tenant associations; legislative advocacy; written & oral advocacy; representing community-based organizations; and discovery disputes and depositions, including protecting clients in litigation from harassing discovery.

About the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center

The Community Development Project (CDP) at the Urban Justice Center strengthens the impact of grassroots organizations in New York City’s low-income and other excluded communities. We partner with community organizations to win legal cases, publish community-driven research reports, assist with the formation of new organizations and cooperatives, and provide technical and transactional assistance in support of their work towards social justice.

CDP adheres to a theory of change where short-term and individual successes help build the capacity and power of our community partners, who in turn can have longer-term impact on policies, laws and systems that affect their communities.  We leverage short-term successes such as winning cases and publishing reports to build the capacity of our partner organizations, increase public awareness of the issues they are organizing around, and help achieve victories for their organizing campaigns.

This enables our community partners to create systemic change through law and policy reform, increase political power in low-income and excluded communities, and change abusive and exploitative practices affecting their communities.  CDP works with many organizations throughout New York City, such as the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, Mirabal Sisters, Fifth Avenue Committee, Chhaya CDC, Communities for Safe Apartments (CASA), Mothers on the Move (MOM), CAAAV, the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), Domestic Workers United (DWU), New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), and numerous tenants’ associations. More information about CDP’s work can be found at

Application Procedure

Students interested in applying for the clinic should submit the standard application, resume, and transcript online through CAMS. Selection of students is not based on interviews. However, Professors Tai and Sheftel-Gomes (who are both currently co-teaching the clinic) will meet with applicants in groups in order to provide a more complete description of the clinic and to answer questions. If you would like to attend a group meeting, please sign up for a time in CAMS after you submit your application.

Student Contacts

Students who wish to know more about the Community Development and Economic Justice Clinic may speak with the following students who are in the clinic this semester and the students who were in the clinic in the Spring 2015 semester:

Spring 2015
Jakarri Hamlin
Laura Hecht-Felella
Julia Lake
Margaret Marron
Christopher James Murray
Pooja Shethji
Mark Stokely
Gabriel Turner
Spring 2014
Steven Couper
Sophie Gebreselassie
Diane Johnston
Nnenne Okorafor
Brence Pernell
Steven Sasmor
Molly Wolfe

Students should also feel free to contact the professors, who are both attorneys with the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, about the clinic. Professor Amy Tai can be reached at (646) 459-3026 or by email. Professor Nasoan Sheftel-Gomes can be reached at (646) 459-3013 or by email.

* 5 credits include 3 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits.