The Civil Justice Clinic, first established as the Urban Legal Clinic in 1970, instructs law students in the representation of indigent clients and client groups in a wide variety of civil cases, primarily in the areas of housing, family, consumer law, probate, bankruptcy, unemployment compensation, social security and SSI disability benefits and other public benefits law. Students handle all aspects of proceedings including interviewing and counseling clients, negotiating with adversaries, writing pleadings, motions, and briefs, and conducting depositions and trials.
Housing cases typically involve defending eviction actions, helping tenants obtain needed repairs, litigating actions to recover tenants’ security deposits, or fighting illegal rent increases. The subject of consumer cases range from real estate, home repair, car repair or purchase scams. Family cases may deal with anything from “simple” divorces, domestic violence, or child support hearings to more complex divorces involving real estate, child support, custody, alimony, pension, or other equitable distribution issues. The social security disability cases typically involve either full evidentiary hearings before federal administrative law judges—often involving the cross-examination of medical and vocational experts—or federal court appellate advocacy involving the formal preparation of appellate briefs sometimes followed by oral argument in U.S. District Court or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The clinic also occasionally pursues larger scale law reform and impact advocacy on systemic issues of civil poverty law, including:
- class action litigation challenging the mass destruction and misuse of thousands of Newark’s low-income federal public housing apartments without adequate replacement,
- investigation of systemic delays in the administration of the food stamp program in New Jersey,
- advocacy on behalf of tenant groups in rent strikes against private landlords, and
- analysis and comments on proposals by the Administrative Conference of the United States that would create additional procedural and substantive burdens for indigent SSI and Social Security Disability claimants.
Clinic students perform various forms of community outreach by making presentations to veterans’ groups and by aiding pro se litigants in divorce and consumer law clinics.
The clinic will share a lawyering skills seminar with the criminal and youth justice clinic, instructing students in a full range of lawyering skills including interviewing, counseling, development of a theory of the case, cross-cultural competency, negotiation, motion practice, and various aspects of trial practice and witness examination.