Professors: Linda Fisher and Shavar Jeffries
Offered: Fall and spring semesters.
The Civil Litigation Clinic handles a variety of civil cases on behalf of its clients, with a primary focus on civil rights, housing and education cases. During the course of a semester, students may handle all aspects of civil cases, from conducting an initial interview to trying a case or arguing a motion. Students draft complaints, answers and counterclaims; propound and respond to interrogatories and document requests; conduct and defend depositions; draft motions and memoranda of law; conduct settlement negotiations; appear in federal and state court; and represent clients in full hearings.
The Civil Litigation Clinic has two complementary portions: a two-hour, one credit, weekly seminar focusing on procedural, evidentiary and ethical rules, as well as skills training; and a four-credit clinical component in which students work on real cases for real clients.
CLINICAL LAW PRACTICE
Students in the Civil Litigation Clinic have interviewed and counseled clients, conducted trials and hearings, drafted pleadings and briefs, argued discovery and dispositive motions in court, taken depositions, engaged in settlement negotiations, and participated in mediation and arbitration.
Professor Linda Fisher's section of the clinic currently focuses primarily on cases related to predatory lending and foreclosure defense. In particular, the clinic often represents families who have been victimized by foreclosure rescue scams. Desperate homeowners were defrauded of title to their longtime homes by third-parties who claimed they could save the home by temporarily taking title and renting the homes back to the families. The scammers then stopped paying the mortgages, causing lenders to foreclose. Proceeding under consumer fraud and federal lending statutes, the clinic intervenes in the foreclosures, asserts defenses against the banks, and sues the scammers in third-party claims.
In addition, this section of the clinic frequently litigates fair housing cases alleging discriminatory refusals to rent or sell homes. For example, the clinic has also been involved in two appeals: one involving a Jersey City gun control ordinance, and the other concerning personal jurisdiction.
Professor Jeffries’s section of the clinic focuses primarily on systemic public education reform through impact litigation. His clinic is also working on litigation on behalf of the victims of a complex mortgage foreclosure rescue scam. Previous cases litigated by his section of the clinic include: advocating for the free speech rights of a parent who complained about conditions at her local school; enforcing the rights of parents to receive notice about free tutoring services for children who attend failing schools; challenging funding disparities that affect students in public charter schools in Newark; and, increasing access to services for special needs students in Newark.
The seminar is expressly devoted to learning the rules governing the process of litigation, from pleadings to post-trial motions. There is a particular emphasis on developing case theory, the strategic implications of procedural rules and their interaction with rules of evidence, substantive rules of law, and the Code of Professional Responsibility. Another component of the seminar is devoted to instruction in actual trial skills, and a substantial portion of the seminar grade is based on preparation for and performance during simulations. In addition to the seminar, students participate in weekly team meetings concerning the cases for which they are responsible.
The overall goal of both the seminar and clinical portion of the course is to improve writing, communication, negotiation and analytical skills that are critical to effective lawyering; to appreciate the importance of fact development and presentation; to become consistently self-conscious and self-critical about strategic decisions taken throughout the course of the litigation; and to contribute to a sense of responsibility about the capacity of the law and legal institutions to do justice.