Wednesday, November 11, 2015
This semester in Pepperdine's clinical education program, we launched the Veterans Law Practicum, a pilot program with the Ventura County Public Defender. In the practicum, students apply for structured placements with the PD to work in Veterans Treatment Court. The Vet Court is part of the Collaborative Justice Court Program by the Ventura County Superior Court.
Through the Vet Court, veterans or former members of the military service, regardless of their discharge status, can access alternative sentencing and diversionary programs when they can establish a nexus between their military service and disability with the crimes for which they are charged. The PD represents these clients to advocate for restorative and therapeutic services, like drug counseling, housing, job training, mental health services and increased public benefits, instead of jail time. The students work with clients at every phase of the cases, from identifying potential candidates in local jails, to advice and counsel, to round-table collaborative negotiations with prosecutors, probate, the VA, the Vet Center, addiction and mental health counselors. Students move to arraignment, motion practice, pleas and sentencing, and ultimately their clients' graduation from the program. The Ventura County Public Defender has one of the smartest field placement programs in the country to develop young lawyers, and our students have thrived there. California's state-wide, interagency task force for veterans is evaluating this practicum as a model for courts throughout California for over two million vets in the state.
On the strength of the program, we are launching a second course, the Veterans Law Practicum (Los Angeles), with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. In the LA practicum, students will apply for field placements in NLSLA’s Veterans Empowerment Initiative. The Initiative provides coordinated legal services in multidisciplinary collaborations, including expungements and discharge upgrades. By working with veterans on these matters, lawyers may remove obstacles from veterans in cycles of homelessness and poverty and can unlock critical VA benefits to improve physical and mental health, housing and job prospects.
In a season of tight law school budgets and increasing demand for experiential learning, these collaborations are invaluable to the law school. They help us punch above our weight by providing excellent experiences for students and critically useful legal services to vulnerable clients.
To these clients we owe our greatest public trust for sending them into harm’s way for the sake of our nation. We are proud and honored to work beside these heroic lawyers representing our heroic veterans.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
WASHINGTON'S MARIJUANA LAWS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE—OUR CLINICAL WORK AT SEATTLE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
Our Consumer Protection Clinic provides opportunities for students to represent clients in a range of civil mediation and litigation. This year, in addition to helping formerly confined citizens seek relief from their legal financial obligations (more on that in our next post), my clinic students are engaged in other advocacy and policy work. With the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012 and Senate Bill 5052 this past July, part of our Clinic advocacy involves working against the consequences of Washington’s cannabis laws on our most vulnerable populations.
These laws have given our students an opportunity to passionately pursue the ends of social justice in a fairly unprecedented legal area. Our students are 1) developing policy prescriptions regarding cannabis regulation and the poor and disabled; 2) developing a tenant advice manual for residents of federally-supported housing, and; 3) analyzing Washington state cannabis advertising for unfair or deceptive representations or regulatory violations through the lens of the our Consumer Protection Act.
Outside of the criminal law context, a first take may not readily illuminate the panoply of social justice issues underneath the legalization of cannabis (of which marijuana is just one form). To be sure, nationwide there have been mighty efforts advocating changes in our state and federal sentencing laws. In Washington as elsewhere, generations of the most ardent advocates at every turn have, for example, fought against the disproportionate arrest and conviction rates of minorities for marijuana use and/or possession. Initiative 502 has already had a profound effect on the state’s criminal justice system, economy, and overall social welfare of Washingtonians. A closer look however reveals disconcerting impacts upon poor and disabled consumers, and tenants of federally-subsidized housing.
This past July saw a major change in Washington’s existing medical cannabis regulatory framework. One major feature of the new laws prohibits unregulated medical cannabis access points unless the organization obtains a license through the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), and meets all LCB requirements. Essentially, medical marijuana sales will be conducted at recreational retail shops. While in important ways, SB 5052 will benefit medical cannabis patients, the LCB requirements will have detrimental effects on those patients in two main areas: distance proximity and affordability.
One of the most onerous requirements of a licensed cannabis store is that it must be at least 1,000 feet away from “any…public transit center[,]” i.e., bus or rail stop. From the medical cannabis patient’s perspective, the 1,000 feet requirement has harmful implications. Many medical cannabis patients are mobility-impaired, and require the use of wheelchairs, walkers, or canes. As many medical cannabis patients cannot independently ambulate and/or must rely on public transportation, a walk of over 1,000 feet to gain access to their medicine can be a challenge and a health risk. Additionally, because of possession amount restrictions, medical cannabis patients must make more frequent trips to retail outlet—incurring additional costs, times, and physical exertion.
Medical cannabis patients currently enjoy access to a plethora of medical cannabis products in medical cannabis access points. Most importantly, edible products have been developed in access points since 1998, and companies have refined their dosages and recipes to perfection. Under SB5052, all cannabis products must be approved by the LCB and in compliance with its regulations. Currently, edibles cannot exceed a serving size of 10mg. This presents a serious issue for medical patients, many of whom require dosages ranging from 50mg-800mg. This requires a medical patient to purchase over five times the amount of LCB approved edibles.
Not only do the patients have to purchase more products, but the products themselves are more expensive. For example, a 10mg edible in recreational stores costs upwards of $10, where a 50mg edible in medical cannabis access points only costs $5. Therefore, a medical cannabis patient would have to purchase $50 in edibles at a recreational store, where they used to pay $5 in a medical setting. Currently, there is a 37% tax assessed on all cannabis and related products, which is collected at the retailer’s point of sale. While it is worth noting that medical cannabis patients who are in a state registry are exempt from paying that tax, the higher costs still makes cannabis less affordable to for all medical patients likely on a fixed income (e.g., SSD or SSI), or otherwise least able to afford it.
The 37% tax may also not work to eliminate the black market for cannabis product. While street prices of cannabis usually stay in the area of $10/gram, prices in retail stores are $10-$20/gram, plus the 37% tax and additional 9.5% sales tax. Because cannabis is significantly cheaper to purchase on the black market, cannabis consumers in poorer communities will be inclined to avoid retail stores and procure their cannabis on the street. Consequently, instead of obtaining cannabis at state-approved retail outlets, cannabis consumers in poor neighborhoods may choose to avoid the long travel and additional taxation to obtain cannabis through illicit means via the black market instead. Aside from the uncaptured revenue, the cannabis cost structure will doubtlessly perpetuate crime in the poorest neighborhoods—doing little to solve one problem that I-502 intended to remedy.
Currently, federal law still classifies marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. It is a federal crime to possess, cultivate, or distribute marijuana. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicated that states which implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems will not be high on its enforcement priorities.  However, the DOJ has not given carte blanche to those states, as federal law has not changed at all. It’s directive provides no defense to federal prosecution, especially as it regards the DOJ’s expressed enforcement priorities: eliminating channels of access by minors; organized crime; possession, use, procurement, support, or distribution through interstate commerce; trafficking in other illegal drugs; violence and firearms; drugged driving and public health; grows on public lands, and possession or use on federal property.
Federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development have not given dispensation to landlords who receive federal housing funds (e.g., Section 8 reimbursements). In other words, it is a crime to possess, use, or cultivate marijuana (in any form, e.g. edibles) in federally financed housing. Tenants of federally subsidized or funded housing, thinking they are lawfully possessing, consuming, and/or growing marijuana (which the law allows in small amounts) risk evictions and even prosecution for violations of federal law. Such outcomes would exacerbate our already disproportionate prosecution and incarceration of people of color. Such actions would also exacerbate the collateral consequences for those people, as it erects another barrier to the ability to secure alternative housing (many landlords will not rent to anyone with a felony arrest or conviction), stable employment, and, if convicted, carceral debt.
Unfair and Deceptive Practices
Washington’s cannabis regulations establish fairly strict guidelines on permissible means and content of advertising and product labeling. If a harmful cannabis product enters the market, there is yet no legally-established l mechanism in place specifically tailored to cannabis product recalls. Our students are developing recommendations on that score in reference to the industry best practices, as well as the state and federal Food and Drug Administration’s recall processes. Moreover, our students are performing image and text analysis of dozens of marijuana advertisements of state retail, production, and processing outlets to ensure they do not make representations that are likely to mislead consumers or specific audiences such as children. The endgame of their research is to present their findings to interested stakeholders to ensure that laws and regulations are followed, but those laws and regulations strike the appropriate balance between governmental interests, commercial interests, and consumer rights.
While impacting all Washingtonians as consumers in general, our cannabis laws and regulations work unique hardships and challenges upon the poor and disabled. Despite the conflict between federal and state law, students in our Consumer Protection Clinic are properly engaging in the practice of law under our states ethical guidelines as they regard giving advice and assistance to parties seeking to comply with Washington laws, or otherwise form and operate business entities pursuant to I-502 and federal law. Students in our Clinic are developing materials and programs aimed at tenant advice and education. Materials and programs will inform tenants about federal and state housing regulations, their rights and risks, as well the duties, rights, risks of landlords. Our students are also articulating policy prescriptions which urge the re-examination of current laws as they relate to the 1000 feet buffer zone rule, taxation, and product misrepresentation. It is our hope that those proscriptions will have a positive, long term impact on this virtually unchartered area of recreational cannabis laws—especially as those laws impact those most vulnerable to the adverse consequences of this new regime.
Special thanks to Bonnie Fong, 3L for her assistance in developing this article.
In Washington State, for example, the African Americans were 2.8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Report of the American Civil Liberties Union, THE WAR ON MARIJUANA IN BLACK AND WHITE, JULY 2013, Appendix B.
 RCW 69.50.331 (8)(a). The buffer zone also applies to “elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park… library, or game arcade that allows minors to enter.”
 See, e.g., James M. Cole Memorandum August 29, 2013 (on file with author).
 Washington State Bar Association Advisory Op. 201501 (2015).
Friday, August 28, 2015
Alex Scherr’s thoughtful piece this week on what an externship should be struck home for me, and in an internal way. I can’t wait for Part II. As a clinician I am really proud of what I do. We all are, or we wouldn’t keep at it. But I also face an internal struggle at times, a struggle of how to advocate for and expand experiential learning through law clinics and/or externships, whatever they may be.
I am a traditional clinician, for the most part. By this I mean that I teach in and direct a live-client clinic where I enroll up to eight to twelve students a semester and supervise them on cases. That’s a pretty standard way of doing it. While that may be the case, I also value my creativity to tinker with that established model, mainly so that I can do more subject-wise, project-wise, and expand the number of students in my clinic. My tinkering has involved, for example, out-sourcing some supervision when appropriate by volunteer supervising attorneys or community partner attorneys, and relying more on technology projects (instead of cases) for the development of pro se resource projects and developing student learning.
My overall goal is simple – I want to expand the number and type of experiential learning opportunities so that as many students as is practical get a valuable and meaningful experience. The ABA implicitly with the new requirement for six hours of experiential learning feels the same. My struggle is this – how do I as a clinician advocate for that expansion? Is it only through the development of law school clinics, or can I also advocate for externships? By advocating for externships am I turning my back on law clinics? By only advocating for traditional law clinics, am I turning my back on viable and meaningful externship opportunities for law students? How do we handle situations when there are really great externships that exist – especially when they seem to duplicate some of the clinical work that we do? Do we keep doing that work? Are we worried that students might choose the externships over us because of the different ABA standards and the expectations involved? What can we do when externship-type offerings are being relied on as cheaper equivalent alternatives to what we do?
I know that there are substantive differences between clinics and externships, not only in how we teach and manage them but also because of what the ABA requires. Yet as a group, how do we handle this as clinicians? What do you personally do? Does anyone else face the same struggle?
Thursday, August 27, 2015
In 2014, New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, announced a new program called the Pro Bono Scholars Program[i] (“PBSP”). The PBSP allows students in their last semester of law school in New York to work in a full time pro bono placement in lieu of attending classes.
Student participating in the PBSP follow a modified calendar for their final semester of law school. Participants prepare for the New York bar exam in January and early February and take the exam in late February, instead of taking the July bar exam with the rest of their classmates. After the bar exam, participants spend the entire final spring semester, between 450-500 hours, in a law school experiential learning program in which they provide pro bono legal assistance and participate in closely-related classes at their law schools.
Once the program ends, if the participants have passed the bar exam, they receive expedited review of their applications to the bar. Then, if they have successfully completed the PBSP and all other graduation requirements, those students then become eligible for admission to practice in New York in June or shortly thereafter.
When the program launched in the Spring semester of 2015, all New York law schools participated. Some schools placed students in pro bono divisions of law firms, while other schools placed students in public interest organizations. Yet, other schools used the program to expand their clinical offerings.
At Columbia Law School, we took four students who mediated federal agency employment discrimination cases through the New York District Office of the EEOC. We structured the program such that students mediated cases Monday through Thursday in our clinical facilities on campus and spent Friday at the EEOC office with the judges.
This structure allowed the students to shepherd cases from the beginning through the end. While at the EEOC the students were able to access cases soon after they were filed and assigned to a judge. The students would then screen the cases to ensure they met the income requirement for the PBSP. Then, the students consulted the EEOC judges to further screen for other signs that the cases would be good for resolution through mediation.
Once cases were assigned for mediation, the students worked with our mediation clinical faculty to make contact with the parties and develop the cases until the mediation session or sessions occurred. The students, along with a mediation faculty member, then mediated the cases and performed any necessary follow-up with the parties and judges.
The PBSP in general is something I hope other states emulate. It provides students with the chance to immerse themselves in the practice of law, making them more viable candidates in the job market. And for those with jobs already secured, it gives them a head start on their legal training—lack of which has become a common complaint in hiring. Additionally, because participants get expedited admission to the New York bar, they also enter the market without bar passage as a lingering question for employers.
The benefits of the program are not entirely the students’. The program also provides hundreds of hours of legal service to members of society who might otherwise be under- or unserved. It also provides agencies or non-profits with an opportunity to alleviate the strain on their own resources in serving the public.
Of course, this model is not without controversy. Some have argued that increasing access to justice should not mean that those who most need assistance are getting the least experienced help available.
That argument is partially why Columbia chose to keep the program in house through our mediation clinic. With our clinical professors spending forty hours training the students and then providing close supervision through each mediation, the students were able to mediate a significant number of cases, while simultaneously getting to see seasoned mediators mediate along side them. This also meant that mediation parties were reaping the benefit of having their case heard by experienced professionals in addition to student mediators.
This model is one that states may consider adopting. But, in the meantime, individual law schools ought to consider tailoring some sort of program like the PBSP to their particular needs because there are benefits for both the school and the students. There are no faculty members better situated than clinical faculty to spearhead such an initiative because they may already have clinical programs in place that are a perfect fit which would allow even more students access to clinical education.
Friday, July 3, 2015
At Pepperdine, on the foundation of a generous gift from a private foundation, we have been able to build some exciting new programs to serve veterans and other former service members in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California. These projects began with a year-long needs assessment for veterans legal needs. The study then helped us identify new collaborations with hard working, creative professionals in these communities which in turn have led to new opportunities for law students to expand and improve access to justice for this critical population.
Happy Independence Day!
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The dean of the Willamette University College of Law announced today that the university has hired Terry Wright as the law school's new Externship Director. Willamette began a complete renovation of its externship program ten years ago, which increased the number of credits students can earn, the variety of placements available, and added a more rigorous academic component. Willamette's clinical law faculty played key roles in this expansion and overhaul.
Most recently, Professor Gwynne Skinner both taught and supervised the Externship Program, while further redesigning it to increase enrollment and add a full-time offering. She did this over a two-year period while directing her human rights, immigration, and refugee law clinic and teaching non-clinical courses. Professor Skinner also chaired the search committee that resulted in the recommendation of Professor Wright as the law school's first permanent Externship Director.
Professor Wright is a Willamette alumna who taught in the clinical law program in the late 1980's. She then moved to Lewis & Clark where she spent the next 25 years as a popular and highly respected Clinical Law Professor. She has been a leader in the clinical community for decades, especially in the Northwest. The Willamette community is thrilled to have Terry Wright return home!
Sunday, May 3, 2015
I am very pleased to announce that Tanya Asim Cooper is joining the faculty at Pepperdine University School of Law this summer to design, launch, teach and direct the new Restoration & Justice Clinic. In the new clinic, Tanya and our students will provide legal services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other gender-based crimes. She will build collaborative relationships with professionals in Southern California to facilitate comprehensive services for our clients and to provide experiences in multidisciplinary practice for our students.
Prof. Cooper joins us from the University of Alabama where she has led and taught the Domestic Violence Clinic with extraordinary clinicians and where she was instrumental in expanding the local task force on domestic violence. Before teaching at Alabama, Tanya trained in the clinics at American, and taught in the clinics at UDC. She is a great fit at Pepperdine. We are thrilled to welcome her back home to California, and I can’t wait to see her great work to come.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW invites qualified and experienced candidates to apply to teach and direct its new Restoration and Justice Clinic to commence academic year 2015-16. This is a long-term contract position with rank of position to be determined in light of a candidate's qualifications and other factors.
The School of Law seeks a talented, creative professor to launch, teach and direct the Restoration and Justice Clinic. The Clinic’s practice will provide legal services to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, human trafficking, prostitution or other gender or sex crimes, including matters related to civil protection orders, civil and human rights, family law, immigration, consumer protection, or housing. Along with the School of Law’s administration and faculty, the professor appointed to direct the Clinic will have significant responsibility for initiation and coordination in defining the clinic’s mission, parameters, clients and scope of practice. The Clinic will develop curriculum and cultivate multidisciplinary partners in the university and community with whom to collaborate formally.
The new Clinic is part of Pepperdine’s expanding program of clinical and experiential education. Pepperdine law students must complete 50 hours of pro bono service and 15 units of professional skills classes, and they can receive dual credit in clinics, practicums and qualifying externships. The Restoration and Justice Clinic will promote diverse curricular offerings with a multidisciplinary, client-centered practice with various and intersecting forms of advocacy. The Clinic’s director will have opportunities to participate in the School of Law’s Global Justice Mission and to collaborate with existing clinics to serve local, national and international clients.
The successful candidate will be responsible primarily for teaching and directing the Restoration and Justice Clinic, will also teach externship workshops periodically and will likely have opportunity to teach other courses.
The position is a 12-month appointment.
Candidates must hold a J.D., be licensed to practice law in California (or be willing to obtain a California license as soon as possible), and preferably have experience working with law students on client cases in a clinical, externship or similar setting. The candidate’s record should demonstrate superb lawyering skills, leadership and management experience, strong teaching ability, and the communication and interpersonal skills essential to being an effective clinical teacher. Scholarship in the field will be a positive factor in considering candidates.
The School of Law is an ABA accredited, AALS member law school located in Malibu, California. Pepperdine is a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership. The School of Law welcomes applications from people of all faiths and is particularly interested in receiving applications from candidates who may bring greater racial, ethnic, and gender diversity to the faculty of the School of Law.
Interested applicants should submit letter of interest and current resume or curriculum vitae to Professor Richard Cupp via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The Northwest clinical law community often views itself as one of the most happy and energetic groups in legal education. It is easy to see why they are such a jubilant group. First, they work in a natural setting that rivals some of the most beautiful regions in the world (within a short drive of a rugged forested coastline, the volcanic Cascades, and wine country world-renowned for its pinot noir). Second, the social justice-minded cultural values of the Northwest closely align with core values of clinical legal education, which creates a natural environment for clinical opportunities integrated with the larger community. Third, the region allows room for personhood and pioneering individuality in a way that is well suited to clinical educators trying to inspire their students through transformative professional experiences.
However, not even the breathtaking setting of the Columbia River Gorge could distract the Northwest clinical community from the somber mood that hovered over the group’s regional conference this past weekend. From the group’s first gathering at Friday’s reception, all were mindful and reflective of the recent unexpected decision to close one of the oldest and most respected clinics in the Northwest, the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic. That closing threatens the continued participation and contributions of three of the most well-respected and valued clinical faculty in the Northwest: Mark Peterson, Richard Slottee, and Terry Wright. Their expected absence in years to come, as well as the planned retirement of Larry Weiser of Gonzaga after 33 years, could mark the end of an era in the Northwest clinical community.
Despite the pall in the air, the conference moved forward with presentations and discussions from a variety of new as well as experienced faculty from Seattle University, University of Washington, Gonzaga, University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark, University of Montana, the University of British Columbia, and Willamette. The community learned about new clinics at the University of Oregon and the University of Washington, examined models of collaborating with volunteer attorneys, externships, legal writing faculty, and law librarians, considered the ethical challenges of representing children in law school clinics, and provided feedback on a book Deborah Maranville is co-editing on legal education. A new organization was even created to support externship directors in the region. All in all, it was a productive conference.
The group has already scheduled the dates for next year’s conference: October 2-4, 2015, at Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth, Washington (http://www.sleepinglady.com/). Before they left though, the conference participants did something that this group rarely does. They entered a formal session, discussed the tragedy unfolding at Lewis & Clark, and unanimously agreed to express their deep concern over the decision to close the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic to the Lewis & Clark administration, the AALS Section on Legal Education, and the ABA Section on Legal Education. When those letters are available, I will post them here. In the meanwhile, I encourage you to contact our colleagues at Lewis & Clark with any suggestions or insights you have that may be helpful to them in these deeply disturbing circumstances.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Our nation is currently witnessing headlines about the busing of hundreds of unaccompanied children across the Southwest from Texas to Arizona, where they are being warehoused, but there are tens of thousands more unaccompanied children in our nation who are not making headlines. All need our help. Tomorrow Gannett is publishing an op-ed I wrote about the need to provide legal representation for these children. It can be found here.
Law school clinics interested in this issue should consider applying for the AmeriCorps grants that the Obama administration announced on Friday to provide legal representation for these and other migrant children who are in similar circumstances (see NYT article). Information about the grants can be found at this site. The targeted jurisdictions for the grants are: Arlington, VA; Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Bloomington, MN; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; El Paso, TX; Hartford, CT; Kansas City, MO; Las Vegas, NV; Memphis, TN; Miami, FL; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; Newark, NJ; Omaha, NE; Orlando, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; San Antonio, TX; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; and Seattle, WA.
If you need background in preparing your application, an excellent study about these children was just published by UC Hastings with the support of the MacArthur Foundation. I recently wrote a brief law review article arguing for the appointment of government-funded attorneys and personal representatives to help unaccompanied children navigate the legal labyrinth they face. If you would like to talk or need help with your application, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You will also find tremendous resources among our our colleagues who are immigration law faculty. They are a font of knowledge, passion, and commitment. Good luck!
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
This section, “But How Do I Teach…?: TOPIC” will focus on a different skill, area or lesson for clinical teachers and others alike to consider using/adapting for their teaching needs. The first focus topic is that of poverty – a situation that most clinical clients find themselves in when they seek our services.
A recent article by Steven K. Berenson (titled Preparing Clinical Law Students for Advocacy in Poor People's Courts (43 New Mexico Law Review 363 (2013)) highlights that teaching students about poverty, and practicing in poor people's courts, often falls on the shoulders of clinical faculty given the clientele we serve. While this may be true, do we teach poverty in clinics? In larger settings? Why/why not? If so, how? For newer clinicians, unless you have had training on this issue, highlighting it as a topic for your clinic may seem daunting. We know that poverty exists, but how do we convey understanding and suspension of judgment to our students (not forgetting that some of our students might have personal familiarity with poverty)? What follows is an overview of a basic poverty lecture and an interactive exercise for you and your students to work through, even if you teach this regularly.
What is poverty? Poverty is recognized really as two main types – generational and situational. Generational poverty occurs when your client is poor, their family has been poor, their family’s family has been poor – in other words, poverty is all they know. Situational poverty occurs when you have a client who might have been middle or upper class, but due to debt, foreclosure, medical bills, etc. they are thrust into poverty due to their situation and their circumstances.
Offered here is a proposed classroom exercise that has been run with great success the last several years in a clinical setting. The platform for discussion comes from an interactive poverty simulation known as Spent (link follows below). Allow about an hour for the exercise. When introducing poverty to students, defining the two main types as noted above offers a great general context for the types of clients they may be faced with. With each form of poverty comes its own challenges, judgment and client expectations. To get the students to work through the obstacles faced by our clients, have them pair up with a laptop, pad of paper and a pen. Direct them to the Spent scenario as listed below, and tell them to work through the entire thirty days of the scenario, keeping track of their choices as they go, giving them about 20 minutes to a half hour to do so. At the end of the exercise each pair reports back on how much they had left at the end of the month, and what the easiest and most difficult choice was and why. Once everyone is done, a group discussion can be held for 20-30 minutes. All monetary outcomes are written up for comparison, and each pairing is asked to reflect on the above and give their general impressions of how it felt to survive in poverty. The amounts each pairing ends up with will vary dramatically, as will their impressions of their ability to survive. Most students end up trying the scenario again within the allotted time frame “to try and win” without success – which is also a great lesson in itself – how exactly does one “win” in poverty? Great question. And fuel for more discussion. If you have never completed Spent for yourself, spare a half hour to reconnect with some basic situations and dilemmas.
Additional Resources: The newly released textbook Poverty Law, Policy & Practice by Juliet Brodie, Clare Pastore, Ezra Rosser and Jeff Selbin (available via Wolters Kluwer or Amazon). Simulations include the Poverty USA Tour (available at http://www.povertyusa.org/the-state-of-poverty/poverty-usa-tour/) and Spent – an interactive simulation putting you in survival mode for 30 days in Poverty (available at playspent.org/playspent.html). Lastly, Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days Series, Episode 1 makes for excellent watching as Morgan and his fiancé try to survive on minimum wage for 30 days.
Have ideas/exercises/topic suggestions? We would love to hear them! Please send any suggestions to email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you!