Civil Rights Clinic
| A Look Inside the Civil Rights Clinic
Featuring Ronald V. Yegge Clinical Director and Associate Professor Laura Rovner
The Civil Rights Clinic (CRC) is an intensive, year-long litigation program in which students represent clients in civil rights cases in federal court under the supervision of clinic faculty. Students also participate in a seminar designed to help them develop their litigation skills and understanding of the law, as well as the political and social contexts of civil rights litigation. In both the casework and seminar components of the CRC, we emphasize the development of analytical and writing skills, an appreciation of the importance of fact development and case theory, the need to be consistently self-conscious and self-critical about strategic decisions made throughout the course of litigation, and a sense of responsibility about the capacity of the law and legal institutions to do justice. Our goal is to graduate compassionate and rigorous attorneys who are committed to resolving legal problems effectively and responsibly.
CRC students handle their cases under the supervision of Professor Laura Rovner and Visiting Lecturer Lisa Graybill. Currently, the focus of the CRC’s is on the constitutionality of the conditions in which federal and state prisoners are held, including issues such as indefinite solitary confinement, freedom of expression, the free exercise of religion, and due process, although any kind of civil rights or civil liberties matter may be on our docket. Representative CRC cases may be found here.
Our students are responsible for their clients and cases and handle all aspects of the litigation. The cases are relatively complex and students work on them in teams. The students working on each case meet at least once each week for a formal supervision conference with clinic faculty, and typically meet more frequently, depending on case needs. While a particular case may not present the opportunity to engage in all of the following tasks, each student will handle many of them: interviewing and counseling clients, development of case theory, drafting pleadings, conducting discovery (including taking and defending depositions), working with expert witnesses, negotiating settlements, appearances at pretrial conferences and motions hearings, and conducting trials.
Students will meet twice weekly for class. In addition, students will be required to attend an orientation prior to the first day of classes in the fall semester. Classes will then meet weekly on Monday and Wednesday from 10:30 AM to 11:45 AM.
Time and Credits
The Civil Rights Clinic requires a substantial commitment. Students must enroll for the full academic year, and will receive a total of 12 credits for their work in the clinic (6 credits per semester). Students devote an average of at least 20-25 hours to clinic work each week.
Working with clients on complex civil rights matters is an experience that students have found intellectually challenging and personally compelling on multiple levels. Specific benefits include:
- The honing of research and written advocacy skills through the writing of pretrial and discovery motions, which involve fascinating and complex issues of substantive law and procedure;
- Development of oral advocacy skills through oral argument on motions and participation in settlement and pretrial conferences, presentations to community groups, participation in negotiations/mediations, etc.;
- The opportunity to develop interpersonal skills through client interviewing and counseling and through the relationship with the other member(s) of the student’s case team;
- Experience in litigation planning, including the investigation of facts and the development of case theory;
- Development of pretrial skills, particularly discovery and motion practice;
- Development of effective planning and organizational habits, including the ability to manage the multiple priorities that exist in complex litigation;
- The opportunity to work with clients whose situations present complex and challenging lawyering issues; and
- The chance to work in an area of public interest law that is deeply textured, ever-changing, and profoundly rewarding.