Community Development and Economic Justice Clinic

LW.10172 / LW.11977
Professor Edward De Barbieri
Professor Nasoan C. Sheftel-Gomes
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
Spring semester
5 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.

Course Description

The focus of this clinic is the provision of legal services to grassroots community organizations that engage in a variety of community development, economic justice and social justice efforts. Students in the clinic will have exposure to community groups and learn ways that lawyers can support their work. The clinic will work with organizations that are organizing low-income communities in New York City around the issues of workers’ rights, affordable housing, consumer protection, and creation of non-profits. 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. 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 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, formation of worker cooperatives, or land use and community benefit agreements.

CDP provides legal, technical and capacity building, and research and policy assistance to organizations engaged in a wide range of community development efforts throughout New York City. CDP strengthens the impact of grassroots organizations in New York City’s low-income and other excluded communities. CDP’s transactional services include providing legal advice and assistance to organizations in a variety of legal areas. CDP’s litigation practice focuses on tenants’ rights, workers’ rights, and consumers’ rights. CDP works with many organizations throughout New York City, such as the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, Mirabal Sisters, Fifth Avenue Committee, Chhaya, 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), and numerous tenants’ associations. More information about CDP’s work can be found on the Urban Justice Center website and the website of the Community Development Project.


The fieldwork for this clinic will be primarily or entirely conducted at CDP. Clinic students will have the opportunity to be involved in a litigation case as well as a legal research matter that supports the ongoing work of CDP and the organizations it supports. Students will also have the opportunity to represent organizations on transactional matters. The majority of the fieldwork will consist of litigation cases.

Students will participate in a litigation matter in one of CDP’s areas of practice: workers’ rights, 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, 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 meet with clients, strategize with co-counsel, 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.

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

The Seminar

The seminar will meet weekly on Tuesday from 4:20 – 6:10 p.m. at the offices of the Urban Justice Center, which is currently located at 123 William Street, 16th Floor, New York NY. (The Urban Justice Center will be moving in 2014 to 40 Rector Street in lower Manhattan).) Classes will be participatory in nature, and students will be expected to give presentations, discuss their fieldwork and engage in simulations intended to sharpen practical lawyering skills.

The seminar will probably cover the following topics: introduction to the work of grassroots community organizations; employment and labor laws affecting low-wage workers, including wage-hour violations; housing code enforcement; fair debt collection; the non-profit incorporation process; corporate governance of non-profit organizations, such as by-laws and boards of directors; the tax-exempt recognition process (501(c)(3) status; formation of worker cooperatives; land use and community benefit agreements; organizing and the legal issues commonly implicated (e.g. SLAPP litigation); and ethical issues arising from representation of grassroots community organizations and their members.

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 Galowitz and De Barbieri (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 contact Michelle Williams, the clinic administrator, at (212) 998-6439 or by email after you submit your application to sign up for a time.

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 2013 semester:

Spring 2014
Steven Couper
Sophie Gebreselassie
Diane Johnston
Nnenne Okorafor
Brence Pernell
Steven Sasmor
Molly Wolfe
Spring 2013
Max Ace
Atoosa Esmaili
Elspeth Faiman Hans
Sean Ford
Sean McMahon
Dama Saife-Selassie
Alex Stein
Jessica Valentino

Students should also feel free to contact the professors about the clinic. Professor Paula Galowitz can be reached at (212) 998-6441 or by email. Professor De Barbieri, an attorney with the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, can be reached at (646) 459-3004 or by email.

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