Social Justice & Public Interest Curriculum

Boalt Hall offers a rich array of courses that address social justice issues. In addition to standard law school classes, Boalt offers theory courses that examine the legal history and rights of traditionally disadvantaged groups, a range of public interest law and social justice classes, and clinical courses and skills classes. 
Please click here for a list of the current semester's course offerings.

Course Descriptions

Animal Law
Challenges to Legal Rationality
Civil Rights Litigation

Community Economic Development: The Role of Lawyers in Rebuilding Communities
Constitutional & Civil Rights of Immigrants
Consumer Protection Law
Contemporary Civil Rights Law & Policy

Disability Rights
Diversity and Democracy
Domestic Violence Law
Domestic Violence Practicum

Domestic Violence Practicum Classroom Component
EBCLC Seminar
Education: Law, Policy and the 4th Estate
Immigration Law and Policy

Law and Poverty
The Legacy & Futures of Feminist (Legal) Theory

Mental Health Law, Advocacy & Policy
Representing Low Wage Workers
Restorative Justice
Sex-based Discrimination

Sexual Harassment Law
Sexual Orientation and the Law
Sexual Rights: Perspectives from International and Comparative Law 

220A.1 - Education: Law, Policy and the 4th Estate
An examination of the historical, political, social, and media forces that shape education policy.

224.26 - Mental Health Law, Advocacy & Policy
This course will survey such issues as voluntary and involuntary commitment; mental health in the juvenile justice, schools and family law context; rights of institutionalized persons; right to treatment and right to refuse treatment; federal and state anti-discrimination statutes and entitlements; criminal prosecution, defenses and sentencing; and practicing therapeutic jurisprudence.

231.8 - Restorative Justice
In this seminar we will explore both the theory and the practice of restorative justice, an alternative approach to the retributive justice model of our present criminal law system, and will engage in field work in the Alameda County courts and at the Oakland Tribune.

266.5 - Law and Poverty
This course will provide an introduction to the relationship between law and contemporary poverty in the United States. We will explore the relevance of theory, doctrine and public policy to the persistent and damaging consequences of economic inequality - in income, assets, and access to affordable housing and health care - for tens of millions of U.S. residents. We will consider and scrutinize anti-poverty government programs (including legal services), market-based approaches and international perspectives. Course materials will be drawn from legal, social science and popular sources, and students will have an opportunity to apply their learning to problems facing low-income communities.

282.1 - Domestic Violence Law
This course will examine the legal system's response to domestic violence. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we will cover historical and psychological materials as well as topics in criminal, family, tort, immigration, welfare, and constitutional law. Ethical and policy issues will be included throughout, as will discussion of how domestic violence affects different groups - people of color, disabled women, etc.

283 - Representing Low Wage Workers
This seminar will review various labor laws that affect low wage workers. The course will focus upon areas of the law such as (1) wage and hour, (2) immigration laws affecting documented and undocumented workers, (3) workplace leave, (4) disability, (5) workers' compensation, (6) family rights in the workplace, (7) unemployment benefits, (8) OSHA, (9) employee benefits, (10) concerted action and (10) worker centers. The course will function as a seminar and students are expected to do basic reading in each of the areas discussed. In addition, each student will be require to write a paper exploring some area of law which is being actively used to improve working conditions for low wage workers. The course will utilize some outside speakers who specialize in these areas of the law. The paper may satisfy the writing requirement.

283Q - Domestic Violence Practicum Classroom Component
This clinical consists of 11-19 hours per week in a domestic violence legal setting and 1 hour per week in a seminar class with the other students. Enrollment in the clinic will include 5 or more students. Interns will keep logs of work done and any questions, concerns, or reactions, reflecting on what they are learning.

The classroom component will be a discussion of how the internship is going generally, with the focus on ethics, the lawyering process, case discussion, and any specific legal questions that arise. There will be some reading assigned, covering specifics of California domestic violence law and the lawyering process.

284.1A - Sex-based Discrimination
The course examines the validity of distinctions based on sex in U.S. law, in light of their history, underlying policies, and social context. The following areas are covered: constitutional law, family law, employment law (primarily Title VII, the Equal Pay Act and related measures), education law (including Title IX), and criminal law.

284.6 - Sexual Harassment Law
This course covers the historical development of sexual harassment law, current case law in employment and educational settings, comparative law, and the extent to which the current law and its application contribute to sex equality. Readings and classroom discussion include consideration of the social, racial, and economic factors that create and define sexual harassment, as well as how to evaluate and mediate sexual harassment cases.

284.8 - Sexual Rights: Perspectives from International and Comparative Law
This seminar explores the legal aspects of sexual rights claims in contemporary international, regional and selected national fora. The term 'sexual rights' has been increasingly used in national and international settings to encompass an expanding universe of claims relating to sexuality; these include freedom and equality of sexual orientations and behaviors, freedom from sexual violence, conditions for sexual health, rights to sexual expression and association, rights to marry and form families, as well as rights to sexual relationships without marriage, and freedom to determine the relation between sexuality and reproduction. These claims are grounded in legal guarantees which are found in many different legal instruments, such as those relating to privacy, health, non-discrimination, information, expression, association, and freedom from torture and arbitrary detention. Judicial, activist and scholarly arguments for sexual rights (particularly those outside the US) often borrow heavily across borders, invoking international, regional and comparative standards. The status of sexual rights claims varies widely in national and regional courts, however, and doctrinal approaches are often inconsistent or inapplicable across claimants. Complications in building national and trans-national coherence stem from cross and intra-cultural differences of gender, racial and age-based social organization and norms, as well as the diversity national legal doctrines and advocates' interests. 
284.9 - Challenges to Legal Rationality
This seminar will interrogate the assumption that legal decisionmaking - and indeed legal thought - is the domain of reason, understood as a series of logical operations undertaken from a posture of objective, dispassionate distance from the objects of one's ratiocination. The seminar will begin with an examination of this premise, as it emerged in Langdellian efforts to assimilate law to the precepts of a science, as well as in the work of such contemporary legal thinkers as Owen Fiss, Richard Posner, and Guido Calabresi. We will then consider a series of challenges to this vision of legal thought, initiated first by the legal realists, and extended through the feminist and critical race challenges to legal objectivity, and the behaviorial challenge to law and economics.

285.3 - Diversity and Democracy
In this seminar, students will examine the challenges confronting democratic governance in plural societies. We focus on diversity and democracy in the context of race and ethnicity in the United States, as manifested in debates about citizenship, identity, racism, rights, and the like. We cover an explicitly interdisciplinary range of readings that will introduce students to normative, legal, and social scientific frameworks on diversity and democracy.

285.4 - Consumer Protection Law
Through conscientious adherence to traditional law school tools of inquiry – including field trips to retail establishments – this course will explore the theoretical and historical underpinnings of consumer protection law as it has developed over the past century and as it operates today. The course will examine constitutional issues governing consumer law, from commercial “free speech” to federal preemption of state law. It will provide an introduction to the substantive law of predatory lending, debt collection and product warranties. It will explore the application of consumer law to emerging technologies. And it will do all this in just two hours every week.

285.62 - Animal Law
This course presents a survey of the historical and current status of this rapidly developing specialty. In brief, animal law encompasses all areas of the law in which the nature - legal, social or biological - of nonhuman animals is an important factor. It is an objective and logical specialization of a challenging area - one with a growing number of cases and laws, increasing public practical interest, and significantly different historical, legal and philosophical foundations than most other courses.
285.85 - Community Economic Development: The Role of Lawyers in Rebuilding Communities
This course will explore the history and present status of CED strategies, focusing on the role of lawyers, economist, planners, social scientist, and others in using CED strategies to improve the economic and social conditions of communities throughout America. Subject areas to be covered include: community based organizations and tax issues; representing nonprofit organizations; housing and commercial development strategies and CED; job creation/access strategies and CED; finance strategies and CED; Asset Development and Wealth Building, and CED remedies in litigation. Students will have an opportunity to hear from Bay Area experts and practitioners working on these and other CED strategies, as well as from community based organization representatives who are improving their communities by providing housing, jobs, and social services to the neighborhoods in which they work.
286.8 - Sexual Orientation and the Law
This course will explore legal doctrines specifically affecting the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The law is currently in flux and varies considerably from state to state, with regards to such issues as employment discrimination, relationship recognition, parenting, and determination of legal gender. We will cover these topics with a particular focus on constitutional doctrines, including equal protection and due process/privacy. Course readings will include cases, legal theory, news articles, and activist writing, and we will examine current "hot" topics with an eye to understanding how the law developed, what choices activists and attorneys made in shaping legal arguments, and how future developments in the law will affect the lives of real people (LGBT and otherwise).

286.9 - The Legacy & Futures of Feminist (Legal) Theory
This course is organized as a demonstration of the vitality and importance of
feminist work done across a variety of disciplines-much, though not all, of it related to law and public policy--that is intended to affect the welfare of women, through instrumental engagement with the quality and status of their lives. It aims to foster a generous, comparative, and critical appraisal of several areas in which feminist thought has made transformative contributions, and in which its trajectory has the potential to move us in exciting and potentially controversial directions. These areas include women's citizenship (political, social, cultural), autonomy (as viewed through the lens of surrogacy) and efforts (in domestic and global settings) to secure economic justice. We will enter these debates over both conceptualization and implementation by reading what several salient contributors have to say. To endow each such subject with a reasonable period for reading, reflection, analysis, discussion and the potential for additional research, each topic within the seminar will be pursued within a unit of approximately three weeks.

287 - Disability Rights
This two-unit course teaches disability rights, a cutting-edge area of civil rights law, involving landmark state and federal statutes that have been enacted over the last four decades to ensure equal opportunity for adults and children with disabilities, including the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The course explores substantive areas of employment, housing, education (including special education) and access rights, addressing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions as well as teaching practical skills for litigating civil rights cases. Disability Rights #287 is taught by two prominent public interest attorneys who handle a diverse case load of systemic law reform cases at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. (DREDF).

287.2 - Civil Rights Litigation
The class explores actions under the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1871, the primary means for private parties to enforce their Constitutional and statutory rights against governments. Plaintiffs have used the acts in a host of contexts, including educational reform, prison conditions, police brutality, sexual and racial discrimination, property rights, and religious rights litigation. For the past half-century most institutional reform litigation has occurred under these statutes.

287.7 - Contemporary Civil Rights Law & Policy
This course will introduce students to contemporary civil rights issues in California and nationally. After reviewing the historical and constitutional bases of select civil rights statutes, we will turn our attention to more in-depth analysis of salient contemporary civil rights issues, including: voting rights, education rights, immigration, and health care disparities. In each topic area, we will focus not only on doctrinal examination but also on analyses from other disciplines and formulating policy recommendations. Instruction will include guest lectures from scholars and practitioners in legal and other fields. Enrollment is limited, and active participation is required. Students will have the option of completing a take home exam or a paper.
288 - Constitutional & Civil Rights of Immigrants
This course focuses on current issues related to immigrants' constitutional and civil rights. This is not a survey course. We will do brief overview of basic immigration law concepts and then focus on a series of significant current issues such as constitutional limits on detention of non-citizens; the right to judicial review; post-9/11 and national security issues affecting non-citizens; workplace rights of immigrant workers; prohibitions on "alienage" discrimination; and the intersection of immigration and criminal law. The precise content of the class is subject to current events and student interest. The course will include legal doctrine, litigation strategy and policy considerations. When possible, guest lecturers involved in particular issues will be invited to share their perspectives with the class. A prior course in immigration law is not required. Enrollment is limited, participation in class is expected and a final exam will be given. 
288.9 - Immigration Law and Policy
This course will review the development of immigration policy with a special emphasis on developments post-1980 to the present. Substantive areas of focus will be changes in family and employment-based programs including regulatory, administrative and implementation issues. Significant attention will be given to the political, economic and social context surrounding important policy debates, including a close examination of the policy-making process, both legislatively and administratively.
289 - EBCLC Seminar
This seminar (289) and clinic (295.5z) offer a unique educational opportunity at Boalt, integrating reading, reflection and classroom discussion on the lawyer’s role in providing legal services to low-income clients and community groups with student lawyering experiences at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC). Concurrent enrollment in the course and clinic is mandatory for students new to the clinic (advanced clinic work may be conducted in subsequent semesters with the permission of the instructor).

295.5Q - Domestic Violence Practicum
This clinical consists of 11-19 hours per week in a domestic violence legal setting and 1 hour per week in a seminar class with the other students. Enrollment in the clinic will include 5 or more students. Interns will keep logs of work done and any questions, concerns, or reactions, reflecting on what they are learning.

There are several different domestic violence legal agencies in the greater Bay Area where interns may work. Some interns will be certified so that they can represent clients at restraining order hearings, having interviewed the clients and drafted the restraining orders. Since the time between the interview and the hearing is usually only three weeks, it is possible for students to go through this entire process with many clients in a 14-week semester. The issues involved in restraining orders can be complex, involving restitution, payment of debts or child support, custody and visitation, and property control, in addition to the standard no-contact and stay-away orders. There may also be overlapping actions involving the same parties in the juvenile or criminal courts or other family law actions. Of course, other legal issues also arise in the course of the interview, typically in the areas of immigration, housing, welfare, and consumer rights. The students also may use counseling skills, as their clients are in crisis. 

Related Courses Course Descriptions

Advanced Labor and Employment Law Seminar
Children and the Law
Death Penalty Clinic Seminar
Drafting Legal Documents for New Business
EBCLC Clinic
Environmental Justice
Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation
Federal Indian Law
Global Migration Issues
International Humanitarian Law
International Human Rights Seminar
Judicial Externship Seminar

Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic
Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic Seminar

216.6 - Advanced Labor and Employment Law Seminar
We will review selected areas of labor law and employment law including union governance, internal union discipline, antitrust, defamation, preemption, privacy issues, union security, duty of fair representation, email and electronic monitoring, workplace violence and mandatory arbitration of employment disputes. We will consider and compare these issues in both unionized and non-union employment settings. Students will be expected to choose one of these subjects or a related subject for their paper and to lead class discussion on that subject. The course is intended to cover subjects which are not covered in the traditional labor and employment law courses or to cover those subjects in much more depth.

256.1 - Drafting Legal Documents for New Business
In the Drafting course, students will learn and apply a range of knowledge in law and business related to the development of new businesses, particularly in the context of drafting key documents for business organizations. Most new businesses require that certain legal documents be drafted to begin their existence (e.g., articles of incorporation, charters, bylaws). For some businesses, formative documents resemble more of an “agreement,” in which expectations are set forth for those participating in the business (e.g., a partnership, or limited liability company(LLC)). Some businesses need to prepare and file substantial documents in order to obtain certain additional governmental benefits or status (e.g., an application for federal tax exempt status under 501(c)3 of the IRS Code). In addition, businesses often need personnel policies, contracts, grievance procedures and other human resource related forms to effectively manage employee relations. These and other key documents have unique requirements but also a number of common rules for drafting which are not often highlighted in general courses on contracts, tax, and other substantive areas of the law. Through the course, students will gain experience drafting key documents for new businesses, assisted through individualized comments and critique provided by the instructor.

256.3 - Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation
The course in Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation covers the laws governing retirement plans, employer-provided health care, stock options and other executive compensation devices from a planning perspective. The course is based on a model "client" whom we advise about employer-based and union-sponsored benefit programs. Students will use basic legal concepts to advise the client about the design, implementation, and operation of stock option plans, 401(k) plans and pension plans. The class will also explore the role of employee benefit plans for labor unions, in capital markets and in mergers and acquisitions. An important component of the course is the development of planning and drafting skills. Students will work with actual plan documents in this course and those documents will form the basis for several writing projects during the semester. There will be no final exam.

261.5 - International Humanitarian Law
International Humanitarian Law (IHL), also known as the Law of Armed Conflict, is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of war. It protects persons who are not, or are no longer, participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. We will discuss rules regulating the conduct of international and other armed conflicts; the historical development of restraints on armed conflict; the distinction between rules governing when to go to war (recourse to armed coercion) and those governing how it should be fought (conduct of armed hostilities); the protections afforded by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocols to combatants and noncombatants, including civilians, POWs, the wounded, and the sick; the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the relationship of IHL to other areas of public international law such as human rights and refugee law. We will also discuss current problems facing IHL such as its applicability to non-international armed conflict, the “war on terror”, and the Guantanamo detainees. We will consider the means of implementation and enforcement of IHL, including the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

262.61 - Global Migration Issues
Specific topics for discussion in the seminar will be selected by the participants in the context of their research papers. We begin with an examination of existing international legal norms relating to migration. Against the backdrop of the international community’s basically uncoordinated approach to global migration, potential areas of inquiry may include how best the law can maximize the benefits and reduce the risks of migration to migrants and to countries of origin and destination; the criminalization of migration and the concomitant rise of trafficking and smuggling; obstacles to integration/assimilation and naturalization; and the legal ramifications of negative perceptions of migrants in many countries. In considering possibilities for greater international cooperation for the benefit of both migrants and States, we will examine issues of human rights, crime control, and national security, as well as recent efforts by States to promote a migration ‘management’ model. We will also consider US immigration reform proposals and other legal and policy responses. Participants will select readings and lead a class discussion on their research topic, and will prepare a 30 page seminar paper on a subject of their choosing, focusing on either a domestic or an international aspect of migration. Papers will be presented and discussed in class. The class may be used to fulfill the Writing Requirement, in which case the paper must be 40 pages and the student may enroll for an additional 299 independent study credit, for a total of 4 credits. Admission to the class is by permission of the instructor; send a resume and your proposed paper topic directly to the instructor.

272.2 - Environmental Justice
In this seminar we will survey the history of the environmental justice movement and then examine current legal, policy, and political issues with which the movement is struggling, including land use planning and climate change. Students will write a final paper based on either library research or original fieldwork.

281.3 - Children and the Law
This course explores the historical, common law, statutory, and constitutional antecedents of the doctrines of “children’s rights,” "parental autonomy," and "parens patriae" in the context of disputes about legal parentage, the status of children raised by same sex parents, the role of domestic as well as intercountry adoption and assisted reproductive technologies in constructing new families, children's access to medical and psychiatric services, and children’s identity and citizenship. Some specific case files and appellate briefs are studied in detail in order to understand the distinctive challenges faced by lawyers who represent children in a variety of administrative and judicial proceedings.

283H - International Human Rights Seminar
The International Human Rights Law Clinic allows students to design and implement creative solutions to improve the lives of human rights abuse victims. Students work on innovative human rights projects that advance the struggle for justice on behalf of individuals and marginalized communities that have been the targets of repression and violence. In addition, they may prepare and conduct litigation before national and international judicial forums concerning human rights violations. They also may engage in interdisciplinary empirical studies of the impact of human rights abuses—research that aims to achieve policy outcomes.

285.2D - Death Penalty Clinic Seminar
The Death Penalty Clinic Seminar is required for all students who enroll in the Death Penalty Clinic’s year-long program. The seminar is given only in the fall semester. The Seminar provides the substantive law and procedural foundation and the skills training for the Death Penalty Clinic. Because the Seminar includes discussions of the Death Penalty Clinic’s cases, it is only open to students who concurrently enroll in the Clinic.

285.9 - Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic Seminar
Through the clinic, students file friend-of-the-court briefs, comment on proposed legislation and regulations, and provide legal assistance in matters that raise important issues relating to law and technology. The clinic represents consumer interests in intellectual property, communications regulation and privacy issues.

286.5 - Federal Indian Law
This course concerns the legal relationships among American Indian tribes, the United States, and the states. Topics include the history of American Indian law; the conflicting tribal, state, and federal jurisdiction over persons and property on Indian lands; the concepts of tribal sovereignty and self-determination; and natural resources on Indian lands.

289A - Judicial Externship Seminar
The Judicial Externship Seminar is the required 1-unit seminar component for students enrolled in the Judicial Externship Program. The seminar serves as an opportunity for students to reflect on their judicial externships and to introduce them and explore topics that they will encounter in their judicial placements.

295.5T - Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic
Through the clinic, students file friend-of-the-court briefs, comment on proposed legislation and regulations, and provide legal assistance in matters that raise important issues relating to law and technology. The clinic represents consumer interests in intellectual property, communications regulation and privacy issues.

295.5Z - EBCLC Clinic
This seminar (289) and clinic (295.5z) offer a unique educational opportunity at Boalt, integrating reading, reflection and classroom discussion on the lawyer’s role in providing legal services to low-income clients and community groups with student lawyering experiences at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC). Concurrent enrollment in the course and clinic is mandatory for students new to the clinic (advanced clinic work may be conducted in subsequent semesters with the permission of the instructor).