|LW.12865 / LW.12866
Professor Natalie Chin
Open to 2L and 3L students
Maximum of 8 students
No prerequisites or co-requisites.
The Disability Rights and Justice Clinic advocates to enhance and promote the civil rights, autonomy, and self-determination of low-income individuals with disabilities. DRJC represents clients on a range of matters, including securing eligibility for government benefits and services, advocating for sexual rights, ensuring due process protections in guardianship proceedings, engaging in prisoners’ rights advocacy, and challenging discrimination in access to programs and services at the state and federal levels. Students engage in direct legal representation and advocacy projects with the mission to facilitate access to justice for our clients.
In the clinic seminar, students learn substantive disability rights law, explore ableism as a foundational social justice issue, discuss the sustaining impact of slavery and eugenics on current disability law and policy, practice lawyering skills, and engage in case rounds and reflective discussions on issues that arise in students’ cases and advocacy projects.
As this is a 7-credit clinic, students should expect to spend roughly 21 hours a week, including class time, on their clinic work, with the understanding that some weeks may require more work and other weeks may require less. As such, the clinic should be treated as a part-time job.
DRJC students are responsible for taking the lead on their cases and projects, and working in teams under the direct supervision of Professor Chin. Students meet and interview clients, conduct research and writing, engage in strategic case and advocacy planning, counsel clients, and facilitate and lead client meetings and court appearances. In addition to gaining skills in areas such as client-centered lawyering, research, and writing, students build essential professionalism skills as an aspect of their fieldwork.
These professionalism skills include learning best practices for case file management, preparing for weekly supervision meetings to discuss case work and projects, meeting regularly with their case/project team partners to ensure effective team collaboration, editing and proofreading, and learning skills for how to communicate effectively through e-mail, text, Zoom, and other platforms with clients, adversaries, and community partners. As attorneys-in-training, students are encouraged to think creatively in all areas of their fieldwork, approach mistakes as an essential aspect of learning and an opportunity for self-reflection, and embrace the sometimes unpredictable environment of client representation.
Recent examples of clinic work include the following:
- Represented a young woman, together with Mental Hygiene Legal Service, Third Department, as co-counsel, who is dually diagnosed with an intellectual disability and mental health conditions and, as a result, was denied eligibility to services from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. In this representation, the students wrote an Article 78 appeal of the administrative decision.
- Advocated for a person with intellectual disability and cerebral palsy who requires accommodations to complete the U.S. citizenship process of adjusting her immigration status. In this advocacy, students conducted several interviews with the family, engaged in legal research and writing, conducted meetings with immigration non-governmental organizations to strategize on this novel issue, and wrote an extensive advocacy letter, asking for accommodations that will allow the client to stay in the United States to adjust her status.
- Represented the interests of an autistic young man as the court-appointed guardian under Article 17-A of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act. In this role, students conducted extensive fact investigations and legal research, completed multiple interviews, drafted an extensive report to the court, and participated in the virtual hearing, including providing testimony and conducting direct examination.
- Completed a written project for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities that focused on the sexual rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Students engaged in extensive interviews with self-advocates and service providers to get feedback on issues related to sexual education access and LGBTQIA+ training.
- Authored an amicus brief challenging the prolonged and unjustified hospitalization of children with developmental disabilities as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Submitted a comment in opposition to a proposed federal administrative agency rule change that would detrimentally impact LGBTQIA+ people with disabilities in accessing emergency shelter.
The DRJC seminar will meet twice weekly and has four main goals to prepare students in developing and strengthening their advocacy skills. First, the Clinic covers substantive law and policy, both to give students a general foundation for their case and policy work in the clinic and later to explore certain topics in further depth. Second, students learn the principles of disability justice and examine the impact that race, class, gender, sexuality, and other intersecting identities has on disability rights advocacy. The exploration of disability justice provides a framework to critique the civil rights framework of disability law and challenges students to think creatively as to how disability justice may be implemented together with disability rights to achieve greater access to justice for disabled people.
Third, students learn essential lawyering skills, including client interviewing and counseling, fact investigation and development, theory of the case, narrative storytelling, and self-reflection. In addition, the Seminar explores a number of ethical issues that arise in the context of lawyering. Finally, the seminar will serve as a forum to discuss practical, legal, and ethical concerns that arise in students' cases and policy work throughout the semester.
Students interested in applying for the clinic should submit the standard application, resume, and transcript online through CAMS. To arrange an interview, please use the CAMS system as well. If you have questions regarding the application procedure, please contact Professor Natalie M. Chin.
* 7 credits include 3 clinical credits and 4 academic seminar credits.