Students at the University of Virginia School of Law interested in fighting injustice will be able to gain experience — and course credit — through a new offering this spring: the Civil Rights Clinic.
The clinic will be conducted in association with the Legal Aid Justice Center and build on the efforts of the Civil Rights Pro Bono Clinic, which the course will replace.
The pro bono clinic started in January 2017 through an $80,000 grant from the Jesse Ball duPont Fund and proved so popular that the Law School decided to offer the clinic for academic credit.
Adeola Ogunkeyede, who heads LAJC’s Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program, is one of the clinic’s instructors. She said the clinic will provide direct relief to clients in her program, focused on low-income communities of color, as well as work with teams in other LAJC programs focused on such issues as immigrant advocacy and housing justice. Students may be involved in court cases, including complex litigation in federal court, or aid in policy reform efforts, among other hands-on tasks.
“All things are potentially on the table as we go through getting the clinic up in running,” Ogunkeyede said. “We’re looking at how we can have the most impact.”
Ogunkeyede joined LAJC in February 2017 after nearly nine years at the Bronx Defenders. She will teach the five-credit-hour class with Angela Ciolfi ’03, who is LAJC’s director of litigation and advocacy, and Kim Rolla ’13, one of the program’s attorneys.
Taylor Mitchell, a law student entering his second year, has already gained experience working on a variety of civil rights cases through the pro bono version of the clinic and as a summer intern at LAJC under the legal advocacy program.
Mitchell most recently helped with the preparation of depositions and exhibits for the June 11-15 hearing in Scott v. Clarke. Late last year, LAJC and its pro bono partners alleged that the Virginia Department of Corrections violated a 2016 court-approved settlement agreement in the class action lawsuit by failing to improve deficiencies in its delivery of health care to prisoners residing at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
“We were in trial for a week and that was an invaluable experience,” Mitchell said. “We’re doing everything we can to hold them to their agreement. It’s been pretty awesome.”
While the judge in that case collects more information, Mitchell has also been assisting in the research and writing of LAJC’s amended complaint in Stinnie v. Holcomb, the challenge to the Virginia law automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines.
Ogunkeyede said Mitchell’s exposure to research, brief writing and the courts provides a preview for the type of experience students will have in the spring. Mitchell said he can wholeheartedly recommend the class.
“I don’t think I could have gotten better substantive experience,” he said of working on the cases, which also have public policy implications.
The Civil Rights Clinic is one of 18 clinics being offered this year. Director of Clinical Programs Stephen Braga said the addition is important and timely.
“We are very excited to continue the expansion of our clinical offerings with this new clinic focused on civil rights,” Braga said. “While many of our existing clinics address various civil rights issues as they might arise in the course of those clinics’ work, this will be the first clinic to do so exclusively. And it could hardly come at a better time, when civil rights issues seem to be arising almost everywhere.”
The Law School hopes to expand the clinic to two semesters by the 2019-20 school year.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.