LW.11798 / LW.10510
Professor Claudia Angelos
Professor Molly Kovel
Open to 3L, 2L and LLM students
Maximum of 8 students
Fall semester
5 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.


As is now widely known, the United States has the disturbing distinction of being the world’s leading jailer. Representing just 5 percent of the world’s population, we now hold 25 percent of its inmates. The “tough on crime” politics of the 1980s and 1990s fueled an explosion in incarceration rates. By the close of 2010, America had 1,267,000 people behind bars in state prisons, 744,500 in local jails, and 216,900 in federal facilities—more than 2.2 million people locked in cages.

Over-incarceration has aptly been called “The New Jim Crow,” as racial bias, both implicit and explicit, disproportionately keeps more people of color in prisons. One in three black men can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime, compared to one in 17 white males. Native Americans are incarcerated at a rate at least 38% higher than the national rate, including all races. The effect of the War on Drugs on communities of color has been tragic. At no other point in U.S. history have so many people—overwhelmingly people of color—been deprived of their liberty.

In the fall of 2018, a new clinic at NYU will work with faculty and the American Civil Liberties Union to develop and participate in groundbreaking civil rights impact litigation and policy advocacy to address this scourge. The clinic’s impact cases will be shared with the ACLU’s Trone Center, which brings criminal justice reform litigation across the country. Our initial focus will involve advocating for prosecutorial and bail reform.

Course Description

The ACLU’s Trone Center was established in 2016 to address the problem of mass incarceration.  Its strategies include litigation, legislative reform, and organizing. The factors that have driven mass incarceration are many. Among them are the incentives that drive prosecutors -- the most powerful, unaccountable, and least transparent actors in the criminal justice system -- to increase incarceration rates. The Center’s work on prosecutorial reform includes leading legislative campaigns for prosecutorial reform, conducting voter education campaigns related to district attorney elections, and working with progressive prosecutors to advance systemic change. 

The clinic’s work will involve supporting these reforms by developing and bringing litigation to impact the practices and policies of elected prosecutors. Students will work under the supervision of Professor Molly Kovel, senior staff attorney at the Trone Center, and Professor Claudia Angelos of the full-time NYU faculty. Assignments may also include impact litigation challenging bail practices around the country. In teams of two or three, clinic students will be responsible for many of for the tasks that the litigation calls for, including intake decisions, handling clients, case planning and strategy, drafting pleadings, and preparing motions. Because this litigation is closely coordinated with the Center’s organizing, electoral, and legislative work, it will be integrated with (and assignments may include) other campaign tactics, such as community education, organizing, policy advocacy, lobbying, and traditional and social media.

In addition to partnering on impact cases, we expect that clinic students may choose in addition to take full responsibility for assisting inmates in local prisons to prepare for parole proceedings. In New York State, irrational parole denials remain a main driver of over-incarceration. This work will involve building relationships with and counseling a client, mastering the client’s record, gathering support, and crafting an effective narrative.

The fieldwork will be supported by a weekly 2-hour seminar that considers the challenges that face civil rights lawyers, their adversaries, and other participants in the process. The seminar involves a simulation program in pretrial skills in order to provide students with an opportunity to engage in the full range of lawyering activities in the pretrial process, including coordinating with non-litigation campaigns, client counseling, drafting, media advocacy, motions, discovery and depositions, and negotiation. We will also discuss the various ethical and political issues raised by institutional civil rights work and the model of public interest lawyering that it involves. A third hour of seminar time will be devoted to discussion of the challenges that students face in their cases, in order more effectively to advance the interests of the clinic’s clients and also so that the rich fieldwork in which the clinic is involved becomes a basis for broader student learning. Although the substantive focus of the course will be criminal justice impact litigation, students will learn strategic thinking, campaign planning, and oral and written advocacy skills for use across substantive law areas. We aim to provide clinic students with basic skills in client representation and federal pretrial litigation. We also expect that students will learn about the national movement to end mass incarceration and will critically assess it and various models of social justice lawyering, lawyer-client relationships, and providing access to justice.

This clinic is a successor to the New York Civil Liberties Clinic, which was held at the New York Civil Liberties Union. Molly is a long-time civil rights litigator whose work has always involved criminal justice reform, first at The Bronx Defenders and later at the NYCLU. Claudia has done prisoners’ rights work for decades. We look forward to working with clinic students in taking on the critical challenges of mass incarceration. And we especially look forward to developing this clinic with its inaugural group of students.

Application Procedure

If you are interested in applying to the clinic, please submit the standard application, resume and transcript online through CAMS. Selection of students is not based on interviews; however, you are welcome if you like to come to a small group meeting of applicants and faculty so that we can have the opportunity to meet each other and so that we can answer the questions you may have.  We will contact all applicants to set up a time.

Student Contacts

Recent participants in the New York Civil Liberties Clinic, who have worked with one or both of us, are:

Fall 2017 NYCLC
Megan Brattain
Isen Kang
Nick Lee-Wunderlich
Miriam Marks
Sharmeen Morrison
Ozgun Sak
Eric Sun
Christina Wright
Spring 2017 NYCLC
Manuel Ayarra
Kelly Flannery
Jessica Fuhrman
Irina Goga
Sarah Hsu
Simon Kress
Neelofer Shaikh
Eliana Theodorou

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