Professors: Linda Fisher and Kevin B. Kelly
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 housing-related consumer matters and foreclosure 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 or 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
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, 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.
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.
CSJ Receives Funding from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation
With the support of the IOLTA funding from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, the Civil Litigation and Practice Clinic at the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice was able to expand its crucial work assisting victims of the foreclosure crisis in 2015-16. Professor Linda Fisher supervised five law students in the Clinic, with assistance from Professor Kevin Kelly. The Clinic caseload included direct representation in foreclosure cases, serving individuals throughout New Jersey, as well as advice, document review, and/or referral in additional matters.
Several of the cases handled by our CSJ Civil Litigation clinic were affirmative lawsuits in federal court regarding statutory violations. These matters are in various stages of litigation, including one case in which the clinic is seeking to enforce a judgment. In addition, the Clinic represented a number of clients in foreclosure defense cases, and brought motions to vacate and/or stay judgments and evictions. In two of these cases, the Clinic negotiated monetary settlements providing compensation and relocation assistance.
The Civil Litigation and Practice Clinic also filed two amicus briefs in a case before the Supreme Court of New Jersey, in which the issue is whether lenders and servicers should be required to abide by foreclosure settlement agreements reached through the State’s foreclosure mediation program. Finally, the Clinic is engaging in advocacy with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to investigate wrongful conduct by a law firm that engages in loan modifications. With the ongoing support of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, this critical work continues in 2017-18.