Many of us went to law school in the hopes of acquiring the tools necessary to contest and overhaul systems of oppression that have harmed our families and communities. The law, as we saw it, was the means or site of resolution. Yet for the increasingly complex and interconnected social problems that face our communities, traditional means of lawyering through direct services and litigation are often insufficient and ill-fitting. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, Berkeley’s Policy Advocacy Clinic is able to locate creative, non-litigation strategies to address systemic racial, economic, and social injustice.
By helping students understand the broad extractive forces that shape the lives of precarious communities under racial capitalism, CUNY’s Community & Economic Development Clinic seeks to train not just technicians, but movement lawyers who partner with grassroots organizing groups.
The criminal legal system functions by separating acts of harm and violence into two opposed sides—“perpetrator” and “victim”—and lining up legal workers to vindicate one side’s rights to the exclusion of the other. This approach puts forth a scarcity model of justice, in which attending to harm is a zero-sum game. But if we wish to train our students to think holistically about justice, we must encourage them to appreciate the vast range of harms caused by the the criminal legal system.
Every year, the American family policing system separates roughly half a million children from their parents. This system, though long overlooked, is increasingly being recognized for what it is: a way to control and terrorize politically marginalized communities. To date, however, challenges to family policing have largely focused on state agencies as the primary actors in this system, and courtrooms as the primary battleground, while paying less attention to other driving forces like capitalism, public-private relationships, and the powerful investigative and administrative structures in which the judicial venue is nested. Taking the lead from abolitionist’s broader work that seeks to fundamentally re-draw relationships and the distribution of resources, law school clinics should similarly expand their advocacy beyond now well-trod legal paths.
Law schools are disorienting spaces, particularly for those who arrive seeking tools for justice and transformation. The basic 1L curriculum is steeped in our country’s history of settler colonialism and slavery, and the law taught in the first year largely constitutes a legal infrastructure that has fostered and protected racial capitalism. This symposium highlights how law clinics can disrupt that infrastructure and build toward emancipatory futures.