Bloomberg Law
Feb. 6, 2023, 10:00 AM

ANALYSIS: How Innovative Law Schools Are Closing the Justice Gap

Abigail Gampher
Abigail Gampher
Legal Analyst

Joining law firms, nonprofits, and state bar associations in the effort to close the justice gap, law schools are leveraging the talent of law students by providing legal representation, developing free resources, expanding access to justice, and improving the accessibility of law schools.

Bloomberg Law launched its inaugural Law School Innovation Program to promote, acknowledge, and connect law schools that are innovating in the legal education space and providing students with new ways of learning the law.

In addition to the overall finalists of the Law School Innovation Program, we are also acknowledging top scoring programs in six categories: business, experience, justice, pedagogy, student development, and technology.

Here are the top-scoring law school programs that exemplify innovation in the justice sphere, in alphabetical order, along with details about each one.

Loyola University Chicago Law School

The Legislation & Policy Clinic offered by Loyola University Chicago Law School provides students with learning opportunities and avenues to achieve social justice for clients by understanding the legislative process and often spearheading policy and legislative development, analysis, advocacy, and implementation of projects.

Students participating in the clinic develop skills in critiquing legislation, assessing a legislative problem, researching the problem, proposing solutions, examining the potential disproportionate or inequitable impact of various decisions, and drafting materials and presenting information orally.

“Students can be an instrument of change,” said Anita Weinberg, director of the Legislation & Policy Clinic and co-director of the university’s Civitas ChildLaw Center. The clinic “provides the opportunity to challenge students to think critically about whether the law is effective, fair, and sufficient—and whether there are better ways than the legal system to address the issues they confront.”

Roger Williams University School of Law

The Race & Foundations of American Law Course offered by Roger Williams University School of Law is part of the mandatory curriculum and requires students to dive deep into identity, historical inequities, and injustice.

The course covers current issues, historical origins of racial hierarchy, and ways that students can aid in dismantling racial inequities, such as through anti-racist lawyering and critical race theory.

The mandatory three-credit course focuses on the “foundations of American law and the way in which racial hierarchies and privileges have been codified, reinforced, and become status quo,” Director of Special Programs, Academic Affairs Nicole Dyszlewski said. In the course, “students learn to concentrate not just on black letter law, but on social justice and oppression.”

Southern University Law Center

Southern University Law Center’s Urban Law, Technology & Research Academy (ULTRA) has three synergistic priorities: education, entrepreneurship, and research. The program combines technology impacts and entrepreneurship to help combat urban legal issues, particularly those that African Americans face with the criminal justice system from first contact and beyond: racial profiling by law enforcement officers, stigmatization from criminal convictions, mass incarceration through racially disparate plea bargains, and the opioid epidemic.

“[L]aw schools often neglect to teach that laws are not synonymous with justice, but rather instruments to attain it,” said Chancellor John Pierre. “Laws can violate the tenets of equality and fairness that define justice, particularly when they fail to protect marginalized groups.”

Pierre said Southern University Law Center created ULTRA to “provide law students with tools, beyond their knowledge of the law itself, to solve through innovation urban legal issues facing America’s fragile communities, especially those relating to criminal and social justice.”

Southwestern Law School

Southwestern Law School has developed an evidence-based tool that more fully and meaningfully assesses applicants’ law school potential.

The approach, as explained in a forthcoming law review article ‘More than the Numbers’: Empirical Evidence of an Innovative Approach to Admissions, employs an interview tool to assess law school potential for prospective students whose application shows promise but may raise concerns about law school readiness. The scalable toolkit is connected to preparation for practice and may also improve diversity outcomes. This project has produced initial reliability and validity metrics—in other words, a tool that could be used with confidence in the admissions process.

“For many years, there’s been extensive criticism about law school admissions practices, in particular over-reliance on the LSAT, but nothing has materialized,” said Associate Dean Natalie Rodriguez and Vice Dean Anahid Gharakhanian, who co-wrote the law review article. “Southwestern Law School has tackled this narrow and exclusionary approach, utilizing meaningful factors beyond the typical numerical indicators.”

University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law

Innovation for Justice, housed at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business, applies a design- and systems-thinking methodology to engage students in project-based, community-engaged learning. Students work with lived experience experts from the community—people who are navigating common legal issues like eviction, debt collection, and domestic violence—as well as other diverse stakeholders to gain an understanding of existing imbalances in the justice system. The program strives to prepare students to check their assumptions, creatively problem-solve, test new ideas, embrace and learn from failure, iterate and co-create solutions, and engage in data-driven decision-making.

According to Stacy Butler, director of Innovation for Justice, “92% of our low-income community members receive inadequate or no legal help.”

Innovation for Justice trains “students to lead with empathy, expose them to the realities of the justice gap and empower them to unlock change in the system,” Bulter said. “[S]tudents also learn extensive collaboration skills, working with students from multiple disciplines, with community partners, and with lived experience experts.”

University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

In the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Creative Advocacy Lab, students are part of the effort to narrow the justice gap by applying user experience research and design methodologies to co-create legal resources with local advocates. The program allows students to engage with their community and leverage creative communication skills to make legal information more accessible.

Visiting Associate Professor Hallie Jay Pope says she sees transformative justice as swelling from the bottom, and law students can play a crucial supporting role in that transformation.

“Current law students will graduate into a profession grappling with an ever-widening justice gap and deepening economic and social inequality,” Pope said. Through the Creative Advocacy Lab, students “learn to explain legal concepts in plain language, collaborate with lawyers and non-lawyers, engage in design thinking as a problem-solving tool, and visually communicate complex information—skills that are applicable in virtually any practice setting.”

Widener University Delaware Law School

The Dignity Law Program at the Widener University Delaware Law School is a unique law school initiative designed and implemented to advance human dignity under law.

The program features the Dignity Law Institute and includes the Dignity Law Clinic, several courses in Dignity Law, a Human Rights Colloquium, a Dignity Rights Workshop, and a dignity law visiting scholar and speaker series. It is also home of the world’s first casebook on Human Dignity Law.

“Nearly 170 countries recognize a right to human dignity. The global jurisprudential library is deep and wide, and has been applied to contexts from education, reproductive rights, and the environment. Yet there is little appreciation of human dignity’s legal side in U.S. law, which inspired action and application both inside and outside the classroom,” said James May, Distinguished Professor of Law and Cofounder of the Dignity Rights Program. The program “opens students’ ears (and hearts) to the role of kindness, mindfulness, and compassion in the practice of law, anywhere, anytime.”

In previous articles in this series: Francis Boustany’s Jan. 17 article announced the Law School Innovation Program the top 10 overall innovations, and his Jan. 25 article provided details on each of the overall finalists.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content in our Law School Innovation Program page.

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