Law and Justice
Two weeks before the traditional curriculum begins, the Law and Justice course introduces students to the School of Law's educational philosophy and its Community Service Program. The course was designed and is taught by Dr. Edgar S. Cahn, co-founder of the Antioch School of Law and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Law. Each year, he begins the class by asking students to share with their classmates the response they gave on the law school's application about a significant form of injustice to which they had been subjected. Students learn that their personal knowledge of injustice is a shared asset they bring to a profession that historically draws individuals from the privileged and insular backgrounds.
During the course, students are introduced to legal analysis and to case briefing. Issues of the day are explored in detail. Lawyers for people with disabilities and lawyers for the homeless are invited to describe their political, media and legal strategies. At the conclusion of the course, students are matched with faculty advisors who serve as mentors during the community service experience. Students who have selected one of the School of Law's eight Pathways to Practice are paired with faculty advisors with experience in that practice area.
All School of Law students are required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of pro bono legal community service in the District of Columbia during their first year. Students begin the year with an intensive course, Law and Justice, which highlights legal issues affecting vulnerable members of the community and encourages students to explore their personal experiences with injustice. Students are then matched with faculty advisors who guide them through the community service experience. Through the Community Service Program, students are introduced to Washington, its issues, and a cross section of policymakers and individuals who make the District and its programs work.
Some of the organizations where students have completed their community service in the past include:
- AARP Nursing Home Ombudsman Program
- American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital
- Amnesty International
- Council for Court Excellence
- D.C. Human Rights Commission
- D.C. Office of the Attorney General
- D.C. Superior Court
- District of Columbia Office of Bar Counsel
- Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
- National Veterans Legal Services Program
- Public Defender Service of D.C.
- Time Dollar Youth Court
- U.S. District Court
Students frequently find community service to be an enlightening experience that creates or cements a commitment to use the legal system to fight injustice.
The lack of lawyers providing legal services to the homeless creates another layer of structural injustice. I knew this before I volunteered at the shelter, and initially I thought my experience there would be depressing. ... I learned that I could make a difference by simply taking an interest in another person. I realized that I was in fact providing a kind of community service just by talking to them because most people do not talk to or touch homeless people. I was doing more than just providing a legal service at the shelter — we were making the men feel human. ... I will never forget my experience at the shelter, and perhaps someday after I become a lawyer, I will return to the shelter, or somewhere similar, and do more than provide legal referrals.
- Student Volunteer, Homeless Shelter in Northwest D.C.
The objective of my community service was to visit ten nursing homes as part of the Legal Counsel for the Elderly's D.C. Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. The mission was to ensure that residents understood their legal rights, to investigate and seek to resolve complaints, and to provide assistance and support until problems are resolved. ... There is not a basic well-being in these residents' way of life because human life is not limited to having food and shelter. ... I made the required reports to the Ombudsman Legal Counsel. Because that seemed superficial, I also undertook a survey investigating the number of times residents received visits from relatives or friends and the frequency of their contacts and gave that to Legal Counsel for the Elderly. I hope the survey results will be used to show ways to improve residents' sense of human value and dignity.
- Student Volunteer, Legal Counsel for the Elderly
My experience with working at Legal Aid made me more aware of people in the world less fortunate than I am. I have to commend the attorneys who work there. I never saw so much dedication. I look up to them for teaching me to understand the issues that plague the poor and low-income community. My project helped me reinforce my goal in life, which is to become a public interest lawyer.
- Student Volunteer, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
With mandatory clinics and this community service requirement, we are sending an extremely strong message to the community: we are an asset to Washington, D.C., and we are an asset to law schools across the country. There are not enough public interest lawyers. There are not enough that perform pro bono services. I fulfilled a requirement for Law and Justice, and I managed to really help some people as well as myself along the way.
- Student Volunteer, District of Columbia Office of Bar Counsel