NYS Office of the Attorney General Social Justice Externship

LW.12601 / LW. 12602
Professor Sandra Pullman
Open to 2L and 3L students
Maximum of 8 students

Year-long course
10 credits*
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

State attorneys general have increasingly taken on the mantle of promoting social justice through cutting-edge impact litigation and other creative legal strategies. New York has been at the forefront of this effort, and the Attorney General’s Social Justice Division has used its broad enforcement powers on behalf of the People of the State of New York in a wide variety of areas, including criminal justice reform, curbing climate change, challenging the school-to-prison pipeline, protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation, and ending fraudulent and discriminatory business practices, among others. This course affords students the opportunity to learn and experience social justice lawyering from the perspective of state government.  The externship is comprised of a seminar and fieldwork in a Social Justice Division bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

The goal of the course is to teach students about the work of the New York State Attorney General promoting equal justice under law, while giving them hands-on experience in public interest investigation and litigation. The Social Justice Division houses five bureaus: Civil Rights, Environmental Protection, Labor, Charities, and Health Care. Each of the bureaus, described in greater detail below, is empowered to bring affirmative investigations and enforcement actions on behalf of the People of the State of New York to remedy violations of local, state, or federal laws. The externship will focus on the law enforcement work of each bureau and also discuss the various other methods the Attorney General uses to protect the rights of New Yorkers, including proposing legislation and regulations, issuing reports and opinions, and working with the media. 


The fieldwork portion of the externship will consist of placement in one of the Social Justice Division bureaus, where students will devote 13-15 hours per week. Students will be assigned to a bureau based on interest and availability. Students will work directly with site supervisors in their assigned bureaus. Site supervisors will assist students with getting assignments in their areas of interest and balancing workload. Site supervisors will also maintain an active dialogue with externship professors concerning student progress with the goal of providing regular feedback on student performance. The fieldwork portion of the externship (3 credits per semester) will be graded on a credit/no-credit basis.

The work of the Social Justice Division bureaus is described below.

Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Bureau enforces laws that protect all New Yorkers from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, source of income or disability. Using federal, state, and local civil rights laws, such as the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other landmark laws, the Bureau investigates and prosecutes discrimination in a variety of areas.

Environmental Protection

The Environmental Protection Bureau plays a central role in protecting New York's environment and public health. With a staff that includes some 40 lawyers and 10 scientists, the Bureau vigorously enforces both the State's and Nation's environmental laws. It also represents the State of New York in legal matters related to the environment.


The Labor Bureau is principally charged with, and has been nationally recognized for, defending labor standards in low-wage industries by aggressively enforcing the laws protecting low-wage workers. Specifically, the Labor Bureau investigates violations of minimum wage, overtime, prevailing wage, and other basic labor laws throughout the state, brings civil and criminal prosecutions against employers who violate these laws, and represents the New York State Department of Labor in its enforcement of state labor laws. It enforces "Right to Know" laws concerning toxic substances in the workplaces of non-federal public employees. The Labor Bureau also defends decisions of the New York State Department of Labor, Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board and New York Workers' Compensation Board.


The Attorney General's Charities Bureau is responsible for supervising charitable organizations to protect donors and beneficiaries of those charities from unscrupulous practices in the solicitation and management of charitable assets. The Charities Bureau also supervises the activity of foundations and other charities to ensure that their funds and other property devoted to charitable purposes are properly used, and protects the public interest in charitable gifts and bequests contained in wills and trust agreements. The Bureau also maintains a registry of charities and fundraising professionals. Its enforcement work has included cases against high profile non-profits accused of misconduct such as the National Rifle Association, the Trump Organization, and the Catholic Diocese.

Health Care

The Health Care Bureau safeguards the rights of health care consumers statewide through investigation of and enforcement actions against insurers, providers, drug companies and other individuals and entities that engage in fraudulent, misleading, deceptive, or illegal practices in the health care market. The Bureau’s Health Care toll-free Helpline provides information and assistance to thousands of New Yorkers annually, including resolution of individual consumer health-related complaints, making sure consumers and patients get access to the health care they are entitled to. The Bureau also enforces certain federal laws relating to cigarettes and monitors compliance with the nationwide settlement between major tobacco companies and state attorneys general from 52 states and jurisdictions. The Health Care Bureau also educates New Yorkers about the rights and protections they have available to them under the Managed Care Bill of Rights and other health and consumer protection laws. In addition, the Bureau advocates for legislation and policy initiatives to enhance the rights of health care consumers and their ability to access quality, affordable care in New York State.


The seminar will meet for two hours each week and will be letter graded (2 credits per semester) based on class participation, completion of in-class exercises, submission of writing assignments and final presentations. Participation will be limited to 8 students to encourage active discussion and dialogue. The seminar will be led by Sandra Pullman, Senior Counsel in the Civil Rights Bureau. Classes will also feature guest speakers, including executive staff, bureau chiefs, and staff from the legislative and press offices.  

The seminar will provide opportunities to study the work of the Social Justice Division in detail, discuss case studies drawn from recent enforcement work, gain familiarity with various legal issue areas, reflect on fieldwork, and develop skills in legal writing, investigatory techniques, and litigation.  We will examine the role of the Attorney General in promoting social justice from a legal, practical, and ethical perspective, including the following topics:

  • defining the concept of “social justice” and exploring legal and philosophical arguments for and against government intervention for the purpose of ensuring social justice, including understanding the sources and limits of the Attorney General’s jurisdiction;

  • through class discussion, skills exercises, and drafting assignments, exploring the various phases of a law enforcement investigation, including initial intake, witness interviews, oral and written discovery, developing investigative and litigation strategy, settlement negotiations, and dealing with the media;

  • an overview of the major substantive laws relevant to the work of the Social Justice Division, including the statutory regimes underlying our civil rights, environmental, labor, charities, and health care enforcement;

  • strategic and practical considerations governing when it is appropriate to collaborate with local, state, and federal government agencies, including discussing federal preemption and navigating the various law enforcement regimes;

  • ethical issues in government investigations, including the differing ethical standards for private and public sector attorneys, and the balance between protecting confidentiality and maintaining transparency through public statements and information disclosure;

  • the intersection between social justice and technology, including using data analysis and other cutting-edge investigative tools to detect wrongdoing as well as anticipating and investigating social problems arising from the spread of new technologies; and

  • other key functions of the Attorney General’s Office, including proposing legislation, working on appellate litigation with the Solicitor General, and acting as the Special Prosecutor investigating deaths of unarmed civilians during interactions with police.

Readings will be assigned each week and will be provided in advance of class. Students will be asked to complete short writing assignments relating to assigned readings or reflecting on fieldwork experience. 

Application Procedure

Students who wish to apply to the Social Justice Law Enforcement Externship should submit via CAMS the standard application, resume, transcript, writing sample (preferably not more than five pages long), and three references (include their names and contact information at the bottom of your resume). These materials will be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office; students should not apply directly to the Office. Each applicant should explain why s/he is interested in this externship in the application, and should rank each Social Justice Division bureau in order of preference. Selected applicants will be contacted for interviews at the Attorney General’s offices at 28 Liberty Street, New York, New York. Interview is not required for admission to clinic, but admitted students must be interviewed before course begins.

Security Background Check

Students selected for the externship will also be required to pass a security background check overseen by the Attorney General’s Legal Recruitment Bureau. Students will be provided with additional paperwork relating to this process upon selection for the externship. A favorable determination from Legal Recruitment is required before an extern may begin working in the Attorney General’s Office. Students accepted for the externship should complete the required paperwork as soon as possible after acceptance into the externship so that final approval from Legal Recruitment can be timely obtained. 

Student Contacts

Natalie Chew
Michael Hannaman
Tom Johst
Philip Lockwood-Bean
Ainsley McMahon

* 10 credits consisting of 3 clinical (fieldwork) credits and 2 academic seminar credits per semester.