Legal Empowerment and Judicial Independence Clinic

LW. / LW.
Professor Margaret Satterthwaite
Open to 3L, 2L and LLM students
Maximum of 8 students
Spring semester
6 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.


In many places around the world, the rule of law and the integrity of the judicial system is eroding, with “frequent attacks on the independence of judges, lawyers, prosecutors,” (UN HR Council Res. 44/8) and grassroots justice advocates. Judges are summarily transferred or expelled following key decisions, lawyers are attacked for defending the rights of groups targeted for abuse, and community paralegals are unable to advance rights when their role defending communities is not formally recognized. As climate change advances, democratic backsliding continues, and deep inequalities endure, justice systems are increasingly tested.
This clinic will explore how established principles concerning the independence of judges and lawyers can best respond to contemporary challenges facing judicial personnel, lawyers, and communities impacted by injustice. The clinic will examine ways to strengthen protective mechanisms for those targeted due to their work to uphold the rule of law—including, centrally, judges and lawyers, but also community justice advocates, paralegals, and others who use the law to advance human rights.  
In addition to addressing attacks against judges, lawyers, and community justice advocates, the clinic will examine the intersecting ways that discrimination and stigma attach to judges and lawyers from groups that experience historical marginalization, resulting in unfair suspicions of partiality or bias. The clinic will endeavor to puzzle through innovative ways to respond to new threats such as digital attacks and unlawful surveillance of judges and lawyers, pressure to use untested algorithmic decision tools, and barriers to innovations such as alternatives to incarceration and transformative justice.
The clinic will also examine best practices for engaging trained non-lawyer justice advocates in the judicial system. The field of legal empowerment has demonstrated that the rule of law is enhanced when those most directly impacted by injustice have a key role in seeking remedies. A system that encourages the active engagement of those who have too often been excluded is made stronger and more resilient to the ongoing threats of democratic backsliding and disaffection with the judicial system. Finding ways to make legal systems more transparent, accessible, and comprehensible to everyday people will increase the credibility of systems meant to ensure equal justice for all.

Course Description


Students enrolled in the Legal Empowerment and Judicial Independence Clinic will:

  • Document, investigate, and verify information concerning attacks on judges, lawyers, and grassroots justice advocates
  • Analyze legal frameworks concerning the independence of the judiciary, the ability of lawyers to fulfill their crucial role protecting human rights, and the capacity of community justice workers to extend the reach of legal protections
  • Research thorny issues related to judicial independence, access to justice, and legal empowerment
  • Consult with affected communities, legal advocates, judges, and other key actors in the legal system


Clinic seminar sessions will be time for participatory and highly interactive community discussion and learning. The seminar will include substantive readings on theories of judicial independence, the role of lawyers, and the rule of law, as well as access to justice, legal empowerment, and international human rights.

Participation is required, and all community members should attend every session, unless circumstances prevent such attendance for specific sessions communicated to the instructor in advance. We will utilize a wide variety of asynchronous tools and activities in preparation for the time we will share together in seminar. Student use of these tools and participation in the asynchronous activities will be required but not onerous. They will be aimed at making our time together more meaningful and energizing.

Clinic Approach

The Legal Empowerment and Judicial Independence Clinic endeavors to work in a critical, rights-based manner and to use methods from a variety of disciplines. The Clinic seeks the views of judges, lawyers, community justice advocates, and their organizations to ensure the views of rights-holders are at the center of its work. Seeking to both uphold the rule of law and expand access to justice, the Clinic embraces intersectional anti-racist practice and views human rights through a decolonial lens.

Course Materials

Course materials will be drawn from the following:

  • Writings and other materials created by those directly affected by injustice
  • Human rights legal materials, including case materials, treaties, court and commission jurisprudence, treaty body documents, and reports from Special Rapporteurs
  • Scholarship on human rights, access to justice, movement lawyering, legal empowerment, authoritarian resurgence, and democratic backsliding
  • Critical readings presenting feminist, intersectional, anti-racist, and decolonial approaches to human rights and access to justice
  • Multi-methods materials, including tutorials and handbooks concerning participatory, qualitative, and quantitative methods

Application Procedure

Interested students should provide Professor Satterthwaite with a brief statement of the reasons for their interest in the clinic and any other material they wish to be considered. This should be sent to Isha Rodríguez by December 5, 2022 at 3:00 pm. Admission will be decided by the end of exam period in December. Please indicate how you may be reached over the winter break.

Student Contacts

This is a new clinic, so there are no student contacts.

* 6 credits include 3 clinical credits and 3 academic seminar credits.