W&L Expands Poverty Study in School of Law

Lexington, VA • Friday, October 07, 2011

Thanks to a new effort by faculty and students, Washington and Lee law students interested in studying poverty issues as part of their legal education now have any even greater array of opportunities to explore.

Partnering with the University's Shepherd Program on Poverty and Human Capability, the law school has identified law courses, clinics, externships, and third-year practicum courses that address poverty and justice from a variety of perspectives. A new law student organization, the Shepherd Poverty Law Organization, will promote these opportunities to students and represents student interests in this area to the law school and the University.

W&L law professor Joan Shaughnessy led the effort on behalf of the law school.

"We believe educating students about poverty and the role of law in perpetuating or alleviating it will help them be better leaders, wherever their legal career takes them," said Shaughnessy. "I am grateful to the students who launched the Shepherd Poverty Law Organization and helped bring attention to the learning opportunities here in the law school."

Among the courses students can take is the Poverty Seminar, taught by Harlan Beckley, Fletcher Otey Professor of Religion, lecturer in religion and law, and director of the Shepherd Program.  Beckley's class brings undergraduates and law students together in pursuit of a shared interest and is taught in an interdisciplinary style. In addition to studying the law, readings in this class consider philosophical conceptions of justice and explore social sciences pertinent to research on law and poverty.

In addition, courses in bankruptcy, immigration law and policy, and non-profit organizations as well as participation in one the school's many clinics that serve low-income clients will allow students to explore the intersection of poverty and law while preparing them for legal work in any area.  Students can also pursue paid legal internships in poverty and law, many of them arranged through the Shepherd Program.

Several law students had Shepherd Alliance Internships this summer. For example, Claire Hagan, a second-year student, interned in Atlanta at the Georgia Justice Project. "My time at the Georgia Justice Project taught me the importance of doing excellent legal work is, whether you're working for a big firm or an impoverished criminal defendant," she said.

Another second-year student, Curtis Wilson, spent his internship with the Chester Upland School District Youth Court in Chester, Pa. Reflecting on his experience, Wilson said: "The most impressive lesson that I learned through my experience is that in order to combat poverty, self must be much less important than society."

Recently, students have worked with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and the Legal Aid Justice Center, as well as with area legal aid and public defender offices.  Similarly, law students can fulfill their third-year service requirement through projects targeted at the disadvantaged, such as work in local domestic violence shelters or advocacy for abused and neglected children as a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

"These kinds of experiences allow law students to discover how their work as a professional and civic leader can have a positive impact in diminishing poverty," said Beckley. "Such personal and professional development is only possible at a law school like W&L, where students work in close collaboration with faculty members who understand and support each student's individual aspirations."

To learn more about poverty study at W&L Law, visit http://law.wlu.edu/povertylaw.

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