Racial Justice Clinic

LW.10012 / LW.11764
Professor Claudia Angelos
Professor Jason Williamson
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
Year-long course
10 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.


The persistence of racial injustice, deeply rooted in the history and structure of the United States, is undeniable. It is particularly embedded in the criminal legal system.  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 hold 25 percent of the people who are locked up --more than 2 million people in cages. One in three Black men in this country 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 factors that have driven over-incarceration are many and repairing this broken system compels that we reform or reimagine all its elements as well as the conditions that underlie them.

The Racial Justice Clinic commits its students to identifying and implementing strategies for challenging the infrastructures that support the criminal legal system and to learning first-hand from clients, communities and civil rights advocates about its impacts. We work to oppose the drivers of mass incarceration -- policing, bail, public defense, prosecution, sentencing, and parole. Clinic students handle their own cases for individuals in prison seeking parole, and work on teams of civil rights lawyers handling large-scale efforts at systemic change.  The clinic’s work is run by Claudia Angelos, a full-time member of NYU’s clinical faculty and a veteran lawyer for people in prison, and Jason Williamson, the director of NYU’s Center for Race, Inequality and the Law, and a lawyer with over a decade of experience in litigating against the criminal legal system.

As part of our clinic work, we examine current challenges to, and creative strategies for, engaging in racial justice advocacy and litigation, and learn case development and advanced lawyering skills through a series of in-class simulations. We look to the work of critical race scholars to help us understand the landscape we occupy and to assess the potential outcomes of our work—whether those outcomes are beneficial or unintentionally counterproductive. Through the clinic’s seminar and field work, we hope to develop in our students 1) a critical outlook on the work of social justice organizations and public interest lawyering more generally; 2) the ability to apply racial justice theory to its practice; 3) a familiarity with the range of strategies for advancing racial equity; and 4) basic skills in understanding of client representation and federal pretrial litigation.

Course Description

In their field work, clinic students work directly with individual incarcerated people and participate in broader impact litigation and/or policy reform efforts challenging over-incarceration.

Students’ individual cases will involve working with people who have served decades of life sentences for homicides and are seeking release on parole.  Teams of two students have direct and full responsibility for representing these people in their parole applications and, if necessary, appeals from parole denials. In New York State, irrational parole denials remain a primary driver of over-incarceration. The work for clients involves building productive relationships with them, mastering the client’s history and record, gathering support from their families and community, crafting an effective advocacy narrative, and counseling the client as they prepare to face the parole board. Appellate work on parole matters involves, in addition, brief writing for clients.

In addition, as members of teams at the American Civil Liberties Union, students will work on matters that may include challenges to policing, bail practices, public defense systems, prosecutorial misconduct, sentencing, probation and parole, and barriers to reentry. The ACLU’s racial justice agenda is historical, broad, and evolving and includes ongoing impact litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and a wide variety of public education and advocacy campaigns.  Clinic students may work on a range of tasks, including making intake decisions, handling clients, investigating cases, engaging in planning and strategy, drafting pleadings, motions and briefs, and preparing depositions.

The Clinic Seminar

The clinic’s fieldwork is supported by a weekly seminar that considers the challenges that face civil rights plaintiffs, their lawyers, their adversaries, and other participants in the process. The seminar involves a series of simulations in pretrial skills that provide students with an opportunity to engage in concrete lawyering activities. The simulations include 1) interviews with potential clients; 2) media advocacy; 3) initial court appearances; and 4) depositions. We also consider the larger issues often raised by impact civil rights work and racial justice advocacy through reading and discussion of critical race theory and other theories of racial injustice and remediation. As part of that process, teams of students also will be responsible for planning and facilitating occasional discussions with experts in the areas of advocacy and law in which the clinic works.

An important part of our seminar work is collaborative “case rounds,” in which students have the opportunity to work through challenges that they are facing in their cases and receive feedback and ideas from their clinic-mates, in order more effectively to advance the interests of the clinic’s clients, and so that the rich field work in which each student is involved becomes a basis for broader student learning.

Application Procedure

If you are interested in joining the Racial Justice Clinic, please submit the standard application, resume and transcript online through CAMS. Selection of students is not based on interviews; however, you are welcome 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 get in touch with you once all applications are in to set up those meetings.

Student Contacts

Below are listed people who are currently or were recently students in the Racial Justice Clinic. They can give you a good idea of the clinic and case work experience.

Fall 2020 Spring 2021 Fall 2021 Spring 2022
Mickey Desruisseaux
Alex Howell
Shirley LaVarco
Zack Mason
Leah Motzkin
Kevin Muench
Matt Nussbaum
Emani Pollard  
Elena Anderson
Vedan Anthony-North
Eli Ashenafi
Tahlisa Brougham
Alison Ge
Pia Levin
Zoe Ridolfi-Staff
Esther Taati
Aya Beydoun
Kate Clendenen
Amelie Daigle
Lauren Glasby
Stephanie Kerr
Zakiya Lewis
Inikki Mitchel
Marisa O’Toole  
Emily Chang
Joe DelGrande
Ben Hoyes
Annie Lo
Esosa Ohonba
Heather Szilagyi
Alina Tulloch
Christina Vo

* Fall credits include 2 clinical credits and 3 academic credits; Spring credits include 3 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits.