Professors: Linda Fisher and Shavar Jeffries
Offered: Fall and spring semesters.
The Civil Litigation and Practice Clinic handles a variety of civil cases on behalf of its clients, with a primary focus on civil rights, housing-related consumer matters, and education cases. During the course of a semester, students may handle various aspects of civil cases, from conducting an initial interview to arguing a motion or conducting a hearing. 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. Note that because civil cases tend to move slowly, it is unlikely that each student will have an opportunity to engage in the majority of these tasks during the course of one semester. Moreover, because most cases settle, the Clinic seldom is able to offer full trial experiences.
The Civil Litigation and Practice 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
Professor Linda Fisher's section of the clinic currently focuses primarily on cases related to consumer fraud and foreclosure defense. In particular, the clinic often represents families who have been victimized by mortgage scams.
In addition, when opportunity arises, this section of the clinic writes amicus briefs addressing consumer and mortgage issues in the New Jersey appellate and Supreme Courts. The Clinic sometimes litigates fair housing cases alleging discriminatory refusals to rent or sell homes. It also participates in various non-litigation advocacy efforts, including drafting model legislation and assisting nonprofit groups.
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, focusing in particular on the pretrial phase. 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 pretrial 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.