Magazine

Top 10 social justice law schools in the USA

Columbia Law School

Columbia Law School’s dedication to social justice is manifested in its ‘Social Justice Initiatives’ (SJI) program.

The belief that public interest experience should be a part of every Columbia student’s professional life underscores this program which advises students on career choices, summer opportunities and curricular options. The program also implements and oversees the ‘Pro-Bono Program’ which connects students to public good projects. Columbia’s SJI works closely with an extensive network of social justice organizations and actors in an effort to continue and promote social justice activities of the university.

Northeastern University School of Law

The NUSL has a focus on practical training which equips students with experience practicing in the field of public interest law. Engagement with social justice issues is at the core of the NUSL’s teaching philosophy, encouraging students to deal with the legal, intellectual and emotional demands of creating a just society. The school offers a Public Interest Advocacy program but emphasizes that social justice – and the related legal and ethical considerations – is a focus within every course offered at the school. In addition, the Center for Public Interest Advocacy and Collaboration works to ensure that public interest and social justice issues form part of the everyday experiences of students at NUSL.

Berkeley Law – University of California

Berkeley Law prides itself on having a strong tradition of supporting students who seek to put their law training to use in the public interest. In this regard, the school offers a wide network of academic and professional actors with whom students are encouraged to engage and find mentorship. The school also boasts the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice which promotes social justice engagement, as well as a Pro Bono Program which encourages practical engagement with social justice and public interest issues.

Stanford Law School

The public interest mission at Stanford Law School is represented by the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and and Public Interest Law. The center provides a resource for students who are interested in exploring and committing to advancing the public good and achieving social justice through law. The school offers a variety of classes and clinics that provide students with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to support the pursuit of careers in public interest.

Vanderbilt Law School

The Vanderbilt Law School offers students the George Barrett Social Justice Program which aims to keep social justice at the heart of law. The program offers a variety of courses and clinics with different focuses, all of which explore issues of equality, access and service openly and regularly. Among other activities, the program offers a Social Justice Reading Group which encourages students to explore a range of substantive issues addressed by public interest lawyers as well as the challenges and rewards of representing marginalized clients and communities.

Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

Loyola Law School has a history of public interest commitment and was the first school in California to institute a pro-bono service requirement into its programs. The school offers a number of social justice focused programs including the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic and the Loyola Center for Conflict Resolution. In addition, the school funds public interest scholarships, grants and fellowships in its effort to train committed social justice lawyers.

Lewis and Clark Law School, Portland

The Lewis and Clark Law School offers students a speciality program in Public Interest Law. This program allows students to engage with public interest and social justice issues from an academic perspective, but also through practical clinics, externships and pro-bono programs. There are a number of funding support options offered within this program. Additionally, Lewis and Clark Law School offers a Social Justice Tour which highlights instances of student activism and social justice throughout the history of the college in order to inspire new students with social justice aspirations.

American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL)

AUWCL positions its teaching as ‘law with impact’. It offers students numerous initiatives and programs including the Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Center, Lawyering Peace Program and National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project to name a few. The school’s commitment to social justice issues is thus evident in the types of courses and programs that students can take and the numerous impact stories that students have been involved with can be read on their website.

University of Maryland MLaw Programs

Through the MLaw Programs at the University of Maryland, students interested in law and justice can participate in MLaw’s Justice and Legal Thought Program during their freshman and sophomore years and/or MLaw’s Law and Society Minor as upperclass students. The school also offers practical training through its Mock Trial Terp Young Scholars Program as well as other mentoring opportunities.

City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law

At CUNY School of Law, students are encouraged to get involved in the numerous pro-bono opportunities available through student organisations and the Career Planning Office. These programs support a number of justice initiatives that engage students, graduates and faculty in serving immigrants, citizen and non-citizen workers and assisting and empowering historically underserved communities. These programs are carried out through the Community Legal Resource Network (CLRN) and the Economic Justice Project at the University.

About the author

Claire McDonald

Claire McDonald is currently a Masters student studying Migration and Displacement at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg. She has a firm background in social science research and writing, having completed her undergraduate in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and her honours degree in Justice and Transformation, both at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Her professional experience includes almost two years work as the lead research assistant for a research organisation based at UCT – the Safety and Violence Initiative (SaVI). In 2014 she completed an internship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Claire has since spent time travelling solo through parts of South America as well as Spain and Portugal.

Upon finishing her Master’s degree, Claire hopes to continue her career in the field of social justice, working specifically in South Africa after gaining experience working abroad.