Law, Organizing and Social Change Clinic
Professor Sarah Burns
Professor Deborah Axt
Professor Andrew Friedman
Open to 3L students; and 2L students by special permission only
Maximum of 12 students
No pre- or co-requisites.
Spanish proficiency preferred.
Seminar meets Mon/Weds A Block (9-10:50 a.m.)
How can low-income and working class communities define their own goals and realize their public policy aspirations amid the cacophony of competing interests, many of which are well-funded and powerful? Can communities sustain the work needed to develop indigenous and local leadership despite obstacles of poverty, unemployment, care-giving and other daily demands? Where and how do communities find the leadership, skills and support to alter the urban landscape? How can lawyers and other professionals help, without co-opting?
These are some of the questions answered in the work of the Law, Organizing & Social Change Clinic. By partnering with Make the Road New York, www.maketheroadny.org, a membership organization of 4,500 low-income and recent immigrant New Yorkers, NYU Law students will learn how:
• to envision and implement innovative legal work which supports and sustains a community and its organizing;
• to promote community autonomy and self-determination through grassroots organizing, public policy advocacy and strategic litigation.
The Law, Organizing and Social Change Clinic is designed to train law students to perform diverse professional work in the service of a community and its members. Law students will be called upon to function in a variety of intersecting cultures - the cultures of law practice, of governance, of community organizing and of the particular communities they seek to serve. They will help community members translate their aspirations into action and, ultimately, into public policy and/or reforms in the private sector. Students will be trained in organizing, non-profit community organization management, policy advocacy and legal representation.
Coursework for the fall semester will focus upon knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for the lawyer to function well in MRNY’s practice environment. Students will learn organizing history and methodology, be introduced to the background and needs of the largely Latin American communities served by MRNY, and explore the model that MRNY has developed to tackle those needs. The group will wrestle with the philosophical underpinnings of MRNY’s work as well as the nitty gritty of the organization’s legal practice and approach to law office and not-for-profit management. Students will receive extensive training in civil trial practice, including substantive law, evidence and procedure as a foundation for thoughtful client representation in court and administrative venues. They will also receive basic training in media advocacy and advocacy to legislative, administrative and executive actors. All training will foster interpersonal and intrapersonal skills important to mature functioning and include close attention to the ethical issues implicated in the fieldwork. The spring seminar will build upon the fall’s foundational training and fieldwork experience by addressing debates about community, organizing and lawyering in the context of community-building and organizing. Students will delve deeper into the particular skills sets required for high-level professional organizing, policy advocacy and legal work. Additionally, through detailed case studies, students will learn how these distinct skills are integrated with and can create tensions in actual dynamic campaigns. Students will also learn more about how institutional values can inform personnel policies and management practices in the non-profit context.
Clinic fieldwork will involve students in organizing, litigation, policy advocacy directed at executive, legislative and administrative officials and bodies, media advocacy and other public education in support of MRNY’s organizing work. Students will partner with MRNY organizers and staff attorneys on projects that could include: drafting legislative proposals, representing clients at all stages of federal and state court litigation, lobbying elected officials, drafting white papers or reports on emerging issues, developing know-your-rights materials and trainings, and conducting policy and participatory action research. Students have an opportunity to do sustained fieldwork where they can apply organizing, policy advocacy and legal skills taught in the clinic to promote equity and opportunity in New York City, New York State and/or nationally. Fieldwork Teams will work on the following MRNY key campaigns:
New Immigrants’ Civil Rights:
• Community Organizing/Policy Advocacy: Through grassroots-led community organizing, MRNY won interpretation and translation services for close to 2 million limited English proficient New Yorkers at New York City schools, hospitals and government agencies. MRNY is currently working to monitor and enforce compliance with these new requirements, and to expand them to key private sector actors, such as pharmacies throughout the City and State. MRNY is also engaged in community organizing efforts to promote accountable and lawful police and immigration officer conduct, especially with respect to the rights of youth and undocumented immigrant community members.
• Litigation and Administrative Advocacy: To support its organizing, MRNY may initiate litigation or administrative complaints with the New York State Attorney General to enforce City, State, or federal laws prohibiting discrimination and requiring language access.
• Community Organizing/Policy Advocacy: MRNY’s tenant organizing focuses on preservation of safe, affordable housing through aggressive enforcement of the rent stabilization law, fighting landlord harassment designed to push tenants from their homes, and reform of state and city agencies charged with tenant protection. Past successes include passage of the Safe Homes Act, which requires the City to repair conditions in the 200 worst buildings each year at the landlords’ expense, and the Tenant Protection Act, which permits tenants to sue landlords in Housing Court for harassment. An emerging focus is fighting efforts by private equity firms that purchase rent stabilized housing in low-income neighborhoods, illegally force tenants from their homes, and then re-let apartments for illegally inflated rents or convert properties to coops or condos to sell. Also, MRNY is likely to launch a campaign to expand the City’s housing stock, particularly for new immigrant tenants, by seeking legislative or regulatory change to promote the legalization of safe basement apartments.
• Litigation and Administrative Advocacy: MRNY handles a varied docket of housing cases: eviction prevention, HP Actions (actions forcing landlords to repair unsafe and subpar conditions or to challenge harassment by landlords), 7A actions (appointing an administrator to collect rent and manage buildings where landlord has demonstrated serious neglect or abuse), and plenary actions in state court to challenge deceptive business practices by landlords,
• Community Organizing/Policy Advocacy: MRNY’s worker organizing seeks to enforce existing legal protections as well as win wages, benefits, and working conditions that are better than what the law guarantees. For instance, along Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, MRNY has won over $1 million dollars in illegally withheld wages, organized unions at ten shops, and helped secure the arrest of two exploitative supermarket executives for labor law violations. Current targets include fighting abuse by employment agencies, retail worker organizing at Queens Center Mall, and passage of a law to revoke licenses of restaurants with extensive labor violations. MRNY is also working to ensure that state investment in “economic development” includes requirements that protect and expand the rights of New York workers.
• Litigation and Administrative Advocacy: MRNY staff attorneys litigate federal and state cases to recover unpaid wages or win damages for discrimination. Other advocacy includes helping workers file administrative complaints to challenge underpayment of wages or unsafe conditions and to access workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance benefits.
Improving Public Education:
• Community Organizing/Policy Advocacy: MRNY’s public education organizing draws student and parents into efforts to improve student achievement and access to college, and combat policies that criminalize young people in their schools. Last year, MRNY youth worked with other high school age youth across the city to secure a new public investment of $600,000 to establish student-led college access programs in a number of high-need high schools. Youth members of the organization also pushed for the passage of the Student Safety Act, which would hold NYPD School Safety Agents accountable for violations of students’ rights, and are pushing the administration of the City University of New York, to follow a state law entitling undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at the university.
• Litigation and Administrative Advocacy: MRNY works with partners like the New York Civil Liberties Union to mount legal challenges to the New York City Department of Education’s reliance on NYPD School Safety Agents in policing area schools. MRNY is currently investigating litigation that would challenge arrests of students for felony offenses in violation of the NYS Family Court Act. We provide direct assistance to undocumented CUNY students who have graduated from New York high schools or GED programs and face unlawful tuition overcharges at CUNY, and to youth members facing school suspensions.
Initiatives in any of the foregoing areas could require any or all of the strategies and skills in which clinic students will be trained.
The fieldwork will be performed under the supervision of Professor Burns, attorneys, policy experts and senior staff at the Make the Road New York, in close collaboration with MRNY organizers and community members.
The clinic will be taught by Professor Sarah E. Burns and experienced senior lawyer/organizers of Make the Road New York.
Students who are interested in applying to the Law, Organizing and Social Change Clinic should submit the standard application, resume and transcript online via CAMS. Applicants should submit as lengthy a response to Question 4 of the standard application as they feel necessary and should ignore the 300 word limit. Students should also indicate whether they have Spanish language proficiency and, if so, its extent and nature. If you have any questions regarding the application process, please contact Mr. Ray Ivey at 212-998-6474 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicants will be contacted by Mr. Ivey during the application period with instructions concerning a face-to-face meeting required to complete the application process.
Because the clinic is being offered for the first time in Academic Year 2009-2010, no current or former students are available to discuss the clinic. We encourage you to be the first. Interested students are encouraged to contact Mr. Ivey with any questions; Mr. Ivey will facilitate communication with faculty.
* 14 credits includes 3 clinical/fieldwork credits and 4 academic seminar credits per semester.