Saturday, September 29, 2018
I write to share with my experiential educator colleagues a fairly recent addition to our work in the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic work at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law).
On Friday September 28, we had the pleasure of partnering, for a second time, with non-profit Human Rights First(HRF). In Fall 2017, we worked with HRF to serve Central American families fleeing violence and seeking protection in the United States. Building on that success, we decided to do it again this year.
Clinic students and other UDC Law student volunteers met yesterday with 10 asylum-seeking families from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These families were previous detained at one of the nation’s three family detention centers, but were released to pursue their asylum claims while living with family and friends in Maryland. The families are all currently in removal proceedings before the Baltimore immigration court. None of the families have yet found legal representation for their asylum claims.
In an era of immigration court backlogs, the court in Baltimore, Maryland, has actually has seen the highest increase since the beginning of FY2017 -- a stunning 96% increase in the last year of individuals put into removal proceedings–- doubling the court’s caseload. Increases have also been dramatic in Massachusetts, Georgia, and Florida. As a consequence, the access to counsel gap is severe and many individuals appearing in Baltimore lack legal representation. In the immigration context, although only around 37% of non-detained immigrants are represented, legal representation makes it five times more likelyan individual will be granted relief.
As a small step in trying to address the justice gap, yesterday UDC Law’s Immigration Clinic completed 17 asylum applications total for the 10 families– the families will file these with the court in just a few days. Many of these cases presented complex legal issues, including those past the one-year filing deadline for asylum. While our Clinic lacks the capacity to take on full representation for each of these families, we hope that our work will set them on the right path and enable them to more easily find pro bono or low bono representation for their future hearings.
This work not only benefitted the asylum-seeking families, but our students, requiring them to engage in:
- Quick rapport building
- Interviewing survivors of trauma
- Fact investigation and information gathering
- Credibility assessment and checking internal consistency with records from previous government interactions
- Legal drafting and editing to ensure that each application made out a prima facie case for asylum, meeting all required legal elements.
- Concise, direct writing to communicate a compelling narrative
- Explaining legal standards in an accessible way
- Wrestling with recently changed and evolving law, thanks to Attorney General Sessions in Matter of A-B-,for individuals fleeing domestic violence and gang targeting.
- Address changing facts and emerging details – for example one team started the day thinking they were working with a mother and three teenagers with asylum claims based on the same facts, but as it turned out, one of the teenage boys had been persecuted based on his sexual orientation and another had been recruited by gangs and threatened with death. This team had to deal with very delicate family dynamics around the disclosure of sexual orientation status.
Participants in the workshop included 3L and 4L Immigration Clinic students, 2L students, including several who had served as Clinical Associates as 1Ls in their first year as part of UDC Law’s required community service, and two of whom who participated in our spring 2018 service-learning tripto Berks family detention center in Pennsylvania, an extended clinic student, 1L students, and a UDC 2018 graduate. Clinic Co-Directors Kristina Campbell and Lindsay Harris along with Clinical Instructor Saba Ahmed supervised students working for the day, along with HRF staff attorney Alexander Parcan and Legal Services Coordinator Sugeily Fernandez. HRF’s two undergraduate interns and social worker were also on hand to assist.
Photo above -- Many of the Clinic students and other volunteer students for the day, fresh-faced and ready to work in the morning, along with Professors Campbell & Harris and HRF staff.
Volunteer students are invited to debrief what was an intense, challenging, and at times no doubt emotional day along with students enrolled in the Immigration Clinic during our clinic seminar
Clinicians interested in replicating this program should feel free to be in touch with Professor Lindsay M. Harris. While there are numerous logistical challenges and hurdles, we find this experience well worthwhile and have tips to share. In many ways the day is a preview of what it is like to work in faster-paced legal services setting, contrasted with many traditional law school clinic models where “law in slow motion” may be the norm. The workshops also provides an opportunity to generate interest in Clinic work and for 1L and 2L students not yet in Clinic to gain hands on experience and insight into an area of law in which many seek to gain exposure.
We are grateful to UDC Law staff and faculty for their support of this program.
Monday, August 27, 2018
This fall, Pepperdine is launching the Jewish Divorce Mediation Clinic. The name is a work in progress (considering variations on theme, like Religious Family Mediation Clinic, etc.), but the work is innovative and important. In partnership with the Jewish Divorce Assistance Center of Los Angeles, and with generous funding from Ms. Chavi Hertz, the Clinic will mediate cases with Jewish families progressing through civil and religious courts.
For divorcing Jewish couples, parties often must receive a religious divorce in addition to a civil divorce. Students of all faiths or of none will work and learn in the clinic under supervision of Prof. Sarah Nissel and Supervising Attorney Yona Elishis who have deep roots and expertise in this work.
The Clinic’s work lies at the intersection of two of our strongest commitments: conflict resolution and interfaith practice. It also fills an important curricular need for family law practice. Students will engage practice in California family law and divorce mediation, and students will study divorce practices from multiple religions, including Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Sikh traditions.
We are excited to enter this complex and fascinating practice. Our aim is for students to learn family law and family mediation, religious competence, cultural sensibility, and engagement across traditions and communities. We hope to serve our community and neighbors in profound ways that can promote families’ peace and healing during some of life’s most stressful and traumatic moments.
The new clinic joins nine other clinics at Pepperdine for 2018-2019. The other general JD clinics include the Community Justice Clinic, Legal Aid Clinic, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic, and Restoration & Justice Clinic. The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution offers the Investor Advocacy Clinic, Mediation Clinic, and Fair Employment and Housing Mediation Clinic. The Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law continues offering its new Entrepreneurship Clinic.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
This Fall, clinicians at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law boldly embarked on what was, for us, a new collaboration to create a clinic-wide orientation. As many readers will know, UDC-DCSL has a rich clinical history and our clinical program is central to our curriculum. Each graduating student, in both our full-time and part-time (evening) program, must complete two seven-credit clinics. We offer a range of clinics and this semester the five of our clinics slated to operate for full-time (day) students undertook just what we ask our students teams to do, intensive collaboration, in furtherance of our shared goals.
Over the summer we met to try to determine what common ground we shared throughout our clinics – ranging in substantive areas from Legislation to Juvenile and Special Education to General Practice, Housing, and Immigration. (Our Tax Clinic, Community and Economic Development Clinic, and the Government Accountability Project are offered in the evening this semester and did not participate in the day clinic orientation). A primary goal was to create a common set of values and a culture across our clinics. Another goal was to set the stage for conversations that would continue within our individual clinics throughout the semester.
We determined that we would first meet for two hours in our individual clinics and then come together as a group. Fueled by pizza and after a round-robin of introductions to all of our clinical faculty and fellows, ably facilitated by Professor Marcy Karin, who directs the Legislation Clinic and with a welcome from UDC-DCSL Dean Shelley Broderick, we launched into the substance for the four hour afternoon session. Practicing what we preach, we circulated a detailed agenda for students outlining our plan for the afternoon.
First, Professor Lindsay M. Harris, Co-Director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic led a session focused on clinical pedagogy. Using text-polling and word cloud technology, we opened up the session with an exercise asking students to share just one word to describe what they had heard, around campus, about the clinic which they were now entering. This ice-breaker served as a Launchpad to consider the goals of clinical education broadly. We shared the concept of “zones of learning and how, in clinic, we aim to work in our “stretch zone.” Students individually mapped out the tasks or skills within their comfort zone, stretch zone, and panic zone.
Next up, Professors Faith Mullen and Tianna Gibbs, Co-Directors of our General Practice Clinic led a discussion on professional responsibility and ethics. All UDC-DCSL students must take Professional Responsibility as either a pre or co-requisite to clinic, but this session served to focus on ethical issues specifically within clinic. Professors Mullen and Gibbs, unphased by an unexpected fire alarm mid-session(!), ably guided our students through key topics including unauthorized practice of law, student practice, file maintenance, attorney client privilege, confidentiality, and more. This primed the students to start to think about their role as student attorneys, we hope, throughout the rest of the semester.
Professor Laurie Morin, who directs the Gender Justice Project and currently teaches within the Legislation Clinic, then led a session on professional communication. During the session, Professor Morin shared with the students tips, strategies, and wisdom, but also carefully connected what they had learned during their first year legal research and writing course to their writing within clinic. Professor Norrinda Brown Hayat, Director of the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic, followed up on this presentation with a hands-on presentation for students on using track changes within Microsoft Word and clarifying our clinic writing portfolio graduation requirement.
Freshly armed with a heightened understanding of Mindfulness in the Law thanks to the two-day conference-within-a-conference at SEALS in August, Professor Harris led a brief meditation followed by an introduction to mindfulness. We learned about the growing traction mindfulness has within law schools, companies, and bar associations, and the potential physical and mental health benefits. We concluded the session by walking through the Jeremy Hunter’s Reactivity Map exercise, essentially considering the value of inserting an extra reflective step in between interpreting a situation and subsequent action as a student attorney.
Our final substantive session was focused on acknowledging professional identity and discussing the concept of feeling “othered” within the legal profession. Professor Hayat, using a thought provoking and contemporary video clip to open the discussion, asked each student in the room to contribute just a one word reaction to what they had seen. Professor Hayat then skillfully set the stage for necessary conversations about race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, and other arenas where personal and professional identity intersect and come into play throughout the semester.
Professor Lauren Onkeles-Klein, Visiting Professor and Director of our Juvenile and Special Education Clinic took on the less-than-desirable task of walking through the nuts and bolts of some key administrative tasks at the end of the day. Through this, students were introduced to key staff and began to develop an understanding of online case management procedures, printing options, interpretation & translation, supplies, copying and mailing documents.
This new collaboration required a great deal of effort by our clinical faculty over the summer, but, we hope that it will sow the seeds for working across clinic and collaborating throughout the semester. We are currently assessing the program and have solicited feedback from student participants in the form of a survey.
We share with the wider clinical community in the hopes of stimulating thought and discussion – do you conduct orientations within your individual clinics? Have your schools tried to provide a broader program, orienting students across clinics? What have been your successes? Your failures? Could this work at your institution, why or why not?
Saturday, February 18, 2017
This week, at the direction of our university administration, Pepperdine announced several new initiatives to provide focused services on students across the university who are affected by changes and potential changes in immigration law and international travel rules. These services include projects by the counseling center, chaplain's office, and point people in each of our five schools.
They also include the new Pepperdine Law Immigration Clinic. This is not a standard, credit-bearing course in the clinical curriculum but is a pilot project with four clinical faculty supervising students who can earn pro bono credit. We are providing advice and counsel under California's limited-scope representation rules. The representation is limited to basic advice, counsel, and referrals for students with questions and concerns about their visas, residency status, documentation, international travel, and immigration matters. The clients are Pepperdine students who are Dreamers, undocumented immigrants, or international students holding passports from affected nations. (Here is our announcement to the law school this week.)
The university also funded a retainer for an outside, expert immigration attorney to handle more complex matters for students, short of appearing in adversarial proceedings. The retained lawyer is one of our former supervising attorneys in the clinics and is one of the leading immigration lawyers in Los Angeles.
In frustrating times, it has been wonderful to see our university mobilize for its students, to marshal its resources quickly, and gather committed people from across the university ecosystem who are eager and willing to add work their portfolios.
Several other schools and organizations have been at work on similar projects, and their resources have been invaluable to us as we get up to speed on this work. Our colleagues in immigration clinics around the country have been generous in sharing insight, materials, and ideas as we get started.
Here are some important and useful resources from our University of California neighbors for which are very grateful:
Thursday, October 27, 2016
In this annual season of program updates, I am happy to share news from Pepperdine about our continuing efforts to expand and improve the programs of clinical and experiential education. This has been a busy year of new projects and curricular reforms.
As I noted here, in 2014, Pepperdine became the first school in California to proactively adopt a version of the California State Bar’s TFARR proposals. Our current 3Ls will be the first class to graduate with a requirement of 15 units of experiential education and 50 hours of pro bono service. This year, we refined that requirement to accommodate student demand and to balance other important experiences in law school. Now, students must complete 15 units of experiential courses or their equivalent, and the equivalent may include limited legal work outside of credit bearing courses. Here are more details on our new experiential learning requirements.
The 50-hour pro bono requirement has driven exceptional student demand for clinics and practicum courses, in addition to co-curricular pro bono opportunities. We are constantly working to generate and promote pro bono opportunities for students. For example, with generous grant support, we have developed an excellent partnership with OneJustice to offer multiple Rural Justice Bus trips throughout the year to underserved areas of Southern California. These limited-scope clinics focus primarily on veterans services in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. We have developed these trips largely for 1Ls, so they can have early live-client experience before they are eligible for clinics, externships and practicums. Some are meeting clients under supervision within weeks of beginning law school. Here are more details on the pro bono requirement.
In the wake of the ABA’s dramatic revisions to field placement standards at the beginning of this semester, we undertook a thorough examination of our externship program (timely as the ABA just completed a site visit last week). After provisional experiments this semester, and considering significant student demand, Pepperdine now permits paid externships in addition to our typical, unpaid placements in judicial, governmental, public interest, and corporate offices. In Los Angeles, this is especially advantageous for our students working in entertainment, media, and sports practices.
Our students may take up to 22 units of out-of-classroom credit during law school, which includes all field placement courses, and they may take up to 10 units of externship credit per term. These full-time externships are common for students working in federal circuit court their second year, and they are essential for our Washington, DC Externship Semester. Here are more details on the externship programs.
In 2016, we launched two new clinics. In the Restoration & Justice Clinic, students represent victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in Los Angeles. Prof. Tanya Cooper has developed important partnerships with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and CAST LA to advocate for clients of gender-based crimes, seeking remedies and orders to ensure liberty, safety and empowerment for our clients.
On the foundation of an IRS grant, we launched the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic in downtown Los Angeles. This clinic has a particular focus on ESL clients in downtown and East LA. In its first full semester, the clinic had a full wait list within days of opening registration. Under the exceptional direction of Supervising Attorney Isai Cortez, the LITC is thriving on Skid Row alongside the Legal Aid Clinic.
Now with six standard JD clinics and three clinics in the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine offers about 160 seats in clinical courses each year, accommodating about 80% of all law students by the time they graduate.
Here are more details on all of our clinics: Community Justice Clinic, Fair Employment & Housing Mediation Clinic, Investor Advocacy Clinic, Legal Aid Clinic, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, Mediation Clinic, Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic, Restoration & Justice Clinic, and Special Education Advocacy Clinic.
New Practicum Courses:
To increase live-client courses, and to offer more specialized practice areas, we have developed several practicum courses in fruitful collaboration with excellent partners. Practicums give us a platform to innovate and experiment, especially when institutional resources are tight. These are exciting works in progress.
Practicums are field placement courses in collaboration with partners in focused practice areas, reserved for Pepperdine students who apply directly to the partner agencies. The partners provide supervision in practice, and law professors provide academic framing and guided reflection. Presently, we offer three active practicum courses with others in development.
The Employment Law Practicum is our newest practicum course. Students work with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County in its Workers’ Rights Clinic. Their work involves individual representation, policy research, and program development in immigrant communities.
We also work with the great lawyers at NLSLA in the Veterans Law Practicum (Los Angeles). Students represent veterans in diverse controversies, applications, and appeals for benefits in LA area Veterans Administration offices through NLSLA's Veterans Initiative.
In the Veterans Law Practicum (Ventura), our largest and longest running practicum course, students work with the Ventura County Public Defender to represent clients in Veterans Treatment Court, a collaborative court with restorative justice, diversionary sentencing, and rehabilitative programs for veterans.
We have set an ambitious standard that every student will graduate with diverse, intensive practice experience with live-clients and committed experiences in public interest practice. This is a demanding expression of our mission and pedagogical priorities, and it creates perpetual challenges to improve existing programs and to expand into new forms, partnerships, and practice areas. We have all hands on deck, from our dedicated clinical faculty, to adjuncts and supervising attorneys, to doctrinal faculty who are taking on faculty advising, imagining new clinics, and integrating experiential components into their courses.
This is an exciting season for clinical and experiential education at Pepperdine. Like so many schools, we are pressed between rising demand for clinics, externships and experiential learning and intensifying pressures in enrollment and budgets. We have had a full year building these programs to better serve our students, clients, and communities.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Over recent semesters, the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office and Pepperdine University School of Law have been developing the Veterans Law Practicum. In the Practicum, upper-level law students from Pepperdine work with the Public Defender to represent clients in Veterans Treatment Court. Vet Court is part of the Collaborative Court Program of the Ventura County Superior Court. Pepperdine law students work in a rich, immersive experience alongside expert attorneys to improve and expand restorative justice for veterans.
I have rarely seen a field placement as committed, organized and expert in the supervision of law students while ensuring that their work is effective and useful for clients.
Chief Deputy Rod Kodman, other attorneys at the Public Defender’s Office, and Pepperdine law students have prepared the attached guide for Public Defender Law Clerks in Veterans Court and Veterans Sentencing Programs. This is a detailed kit with standard operating procedures, forms and guidelines for students in the practicum. The Ventura Public Defender has been generous to share this material with defenders throughout California, and we are making it available nationally through several communities committed to veterans’ services.
From the Introduction:
This guide is designed to assist other jurisdictions in making optimum use of Public Defender law clerks as part of programs that give effect to veterans sentencing statutes, including Veterans Courts. The goal of such programs is to establish a secure pathway for veterans to restorative, alternative sentencing, which greatly increases access to justice for vulnerable veterans. The Ventura County Veterans Court is a collaborative effort, but other jurisdictions can implement the practices outlined here as part of a more adversarial process. Also, this guide refers throughout to the activities of “law clerks.” Other jurisdictions may wish to assign some of these roles to social workers, paralegals, sentencing mitigation specialists, or other professionals. In doing so, they should be careful to follow all applicable rules regarding the unauthorized practice of law.
The guide informs students’ work at arraignment, in the defenders’ office, at the Vet Court team meeting, before and in court, then in the delivery of legal or other benefits to clients.
We hope these materials can be helpful, and we welcome questions, suggestions and ideas to make them better.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
With thanks to my colleague and co-blogger, Prof. Tanya Cooper, and her team who edit the CLEA Newsletter, I am cross-posting my article on California's TFARR proposals from the Winter 2015-2016 issue. This is a variation on a theme I've addressed previously on this blog.
In November 2014, the State Bar of California’s Task Force on Admissions Regulatory Reform (“TFARR”) completed twenty-eight months of work considering new standards for admission to the bar. TFARR followed dramatic new standards for admission to the New York bar that require pro bono and increased experiential learning requirements in law school. (New York announced its final, amended rules in December 2015, available through links here.)
TFARR’s policy is to protect the public and to promote the profession by ensuring law students are better prepared to be ethical professionals when they enter practice. TFARR’s proposals do not bind law schools directly. Rather, they would impose requirements for admission to the California bar that would implicate every law student’s experiences and curricular choices in law school. In early 2015, the Bar’s Board of Trustees adopted the report and proposed new rules. They are not effective yet but await approval and enactment from the California Supreme Court.
Complete information and the text of the proposed rules are available at the TFARR pages on the Bar’s site here.
TFARR’s proposed rules include two important enhancements to experiential learning that will affect all law schools in California and any law student in the country who seeks admission to the California bar. First, the proposed standards would require students to complete fifteen academic units of experiential course work. This “practice-based experiential competency training” would include clinics and externships. It would also include typical simulation and “professional skills” courses (now known as “experiential” under recent ABA revisions) as designated by the law schools. TFARR also permits law schools to designate an experiential component within a standard doctrinal course to count toward this training. First year legal research and writing courses will not count toward the fifteen units. (TFARR’s requirement exceeds the new ABA standard that requires students to complete six units of experiential course work, and the ABA rules do not permit schools to carve out a portion of otherwise doctrinal classes as experiential.)
The proposed rules provide for an alternative path to fulfill a portion of the competency training through “apprenticeships” outside of law school curriculum. An apprenticeship is supervised legal work, with or without pay, like traditional judicial or law firm clerkships or summer associate jobs, which meets expressed pedagogical standards. A student could earn up to six units toward the required competency training through an apprenticeship. Every fifty hours working in a qualifying apprenticeship can count as a unit toward the fifteen required for bar purposes, although these would not be academic credits toward law school graduation.
Second, the TFARR admission rules would require applicants to provide fifty hours of supervised pro bono legal services. The new rules aim for increased access to justice, but the principle policy is to provide experience in practice that inculcates virtues and values of public citizenship and ethical lawyering. The TFARR definition for pro bono is very similar to Rule 6.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. From the proposed requirements:
“Pro bono” means providing or enabling direct delivery of supervised legal services without expectation of compensation from the client other than reimbursement of expenses to
(1) persons of limited means . . . ;
(2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; or
(3) individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate.
Qualifying pro bono experiences can be in law school clinics, field placements in these categories, or other volunteer or internship opportunities with lawyers in these categories. Some questions remain about whether placements with prosecutors or courts would qualify, but the general consensus is that these placements do not qualify because they do not fit the definitions.
Under the proposals, students could earn “dual credit” toward both requirements in law school clinics and qualifying field placements. This provision creates great incentives for students to enroll in experiential courses that satisfy the pro bono requirement simultaneously. This, in turn, creates incentives for law schools to increase capacity in diverse clinical and externship courses.
The proposals create new challenges and opportunities for law schools and collaborating public interest lawyers. Very often, law students earn externship credit with public interest legal services providers, and the new rules may create dramatic new demand for these placements where students can earn dual credit. The rules could increase talent and capacity available for public interest lawyers, but it could also impose new burdens on training and resources to supervise law students who work for a relatively short time. At once, TFARR will require increased collaboration among law schools and legal services providers while deepening the need for more capacity within law schools to provide these experiences.
Some law school administrators, most notably not from California, have leveled reactionary criticism that TFARR rules intrude on law schools’ priorities and pedagogy. A few deans have argued that these new rules would limit law student options and squelch innovation. This criticism runs counter to the experiences at law schools that are preparing for the new standards instead of opposing them. TFARR does not stifle innovative teaching; TFARR promotes it.
Pepperdine University School of Law is the first California law school to adopt the TFARR standards as its own graduation requirements. Beginning with the Class of 2017, students must complete fifty hours of pro bono service and fifteen units of experiential courses. This has spurred efforts to use existing resources and to experiment with new course forms to build internal capacity so that students have sufficient opportunities to complete the requirements across diverse practice areas. In addition to existing clinics, externships, and experiential courses in alternative dispute resolution, Pepperdine has developed new clinics devoted to corporate and policy practice for nonprofits, multidisciplinary practice around gender-based crimes, and tax practice for indigent clients. The law school is experimenting with practicum courses focused on federal criminal practice and on diversionary sentencing and civil legal services for veterans. It is launching new practice-based initiatives for entrepreneurship and tech start-ups. Doctrinal professors are designing practice-based components in substantive courses like torts, ethics, intellectual property, entertainment, and privacy law. Faculty, students and staff are generating pro bono opportunities with collaborators in Los Angeles, rural Southern California, Washington D.C., and abroad in Europe, Asia and Africa.
TFARR reforms would formalize policies that most law schools already tout as aspirational virtues. The new rules would promote professional formation and client-readiness. They are consistent with moves toward formative assessment. In the marketplace of legal education and law practice, the bench and bar have been pushing applied, apprenticeship education back onto law schools for a generation. Law schools have responded in varying degrees of cheerful creativity or reactionary opposition, but with TFARR, and the New York rules before it, the bar has gotten serious as law schools have slowed their responses in the present enrollment and economic crises. These moves are the market signaling to law schools that they must do a better job teaching students how to be ethical, useful professionals, for the sake of justice, the rule of law, the public, and the profession itself.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!