David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy Specialization

Program Curriculum

The Program strives to provide an innovative and intellectually ambitious curriculum that trains students to engage in sophisticated representation of traditionally underrepresented individuals, communities and interests while utilizing a range of problem-solving tools.  Thus, Program students are required to satisfy the general requirements for a J.D. degree while also satisfying the Program’s specific curricular requirements.

The Program curriculum is intended both to address fundamental questions about public interest lawyering that affect all areas of practice and to allow students to pursue a curricular path tailored to their individual interests and career goals.  The Program curricular requirements include a first-year seminar, a special section of the first-year Lawyering Skills course, a second-year “problem solving” seminar, an additional four advanced courses from a designated menu of courses, and a writing requirement.

Program students also have ample opportunity to select from the general School of Law curriculum courses that relate to their public interest orientation and goals, as well as to enroll in other academic specializations and pursue joint degrees.

The Program's Definition of Public Interest

The Program has consistently defined “public interest” broadly, as “any and all interests underrepresented by the private market,” including the interests of the poor and ethnic minorities, unpopular causes “across the political spectrum,” and undervalued stakes in the common good (such as the environment).

The First Year

The required first-year seminar (or workshop) is a not-for-credit, year-long course designed to provide Program students with an overview of different areas of public interest law practice and the challenges public interest lawyers face. The seminar typically has included sessions devoted to discussions with Program alumni and other public interest practitioners, discussions with Program and other School of Law public interest faculty, and discussions among the first-year Program students.

The specific substantive topics addressed in the course are responsive to the general interest areas identified by the first-year students. The course is open only to Program students. In addition to the seminar, Program first-year students also are enrolled in a Program section of the required first-year Lawyering Skills course. This course, while similar to the general Lawyering Skills course in many ways, also focuses on issues that are unique to public interest practice.

The required first-year courses also serve to establish a strong sense of community among the new Program students and to integrate the first-year students into the larger Program community of students, alumni, faculty, and administrators.

The Second and Third Year

The “Problem Solving” Requirement

As second-year students, Program students currently are required to take a seminar, Problem Solving in the Public Interest, which explores different modes of public interest law advocacy, typically through the lens of one or more case studies of lawyering in Los Angeles.  The course is open only to Program students

In any given year, in lieu of the Problem Solving in the Public Interest seminar, the Program may opt to offer two to four courses that would each satisfy the “problem solving” requirement.  These courses, which would not necessarily be exclusive to Program students, would explore the application of a range of advocacy tools to address a particular social/economic/political problem.  Second-year Program students would be required to select one of these specified two to four courses to satisfy the Program’s “problem solving” requirement.  

The Upper-Division Curriculum

Advanced Program students are also required to take one course from each of the following categories (for a total of four courses in addition to the second-year “problem solving” requirement described above).

These curricular requirements are intended to systematically address fundamental questions about public interest lawyering:

  1. Law, Inequality, and Identity:  This requirement is designed to expose students to the relationship between law and systems of power. It aims to explore the fundamental social, political, and economic issues that public interest lawyers confront and seek to change. Toward this end, students must select one (1) course from either of the  following two areas of cross-cutting concern (although the Program may recommend that students chose one course from each):

    1. Civil Rights and Discrimination:  The courses in this category address a specific form or forms of group differentiation (race, gender, disability, sexuality, immigration status, tribal membership) or multiple forms in a single context (such as employment). Another course may qualify if it addresses civil rights and discrimination to some extent and the student writes a research paper emphasizing those aspects, as certified by the instructor.

    2. Economic Inequality:  Most all public interest practice implicates economic inequality in some form. It may contribute to more specific problems – poverty, inadequate housing, limited access to the justice system, and so on – or be one of the problems a policy aims to address, such as through economic development, expanding access to public benefits or employment, and so on. The courses in this category address such issues of economic inequality.  Another course may qualify if it addresses economic inequality to some extent and the student writes a research paper emphasizing those aspects, as certified by the instructor.

  2. Advocacy Sites (1 course):  The goal of this requirement is to assist in understanding sites of advocacy, the specific adjudicatory, regulatory, and other decision-making institutions where advocacy takes place. A student’s course selection should further the particular interests of that student, e.g., a student interested in criminal defense would likely choose criminal procedure; a student interested in civil rights would likely take federal courts or complex civil litigation; and a student interested in immigration law might take administrative law.

  3. Applied Advocacy (1 course):  This requirement is intended to provide students with hands-on training in public interest legal advocacy. To satisfy this requirement, students must choose either a clinical course or one that systematically would expose them to practical skills and tools that would be relevant to their practice specialty. With the approval of the Program, a student may pursue a part- or full-time externship with a nonprofit organization or government agency to satisfy the Applied Advocacy course requirement.

  4. Substantive Law Specialization (1 course):  Finally, students would be required to select one substantive law class (e.g., environmental law, human rights, nonprofit organizations) that would advance their public interest career goals. This class would be identified by the students in consultation with Program faculty and staff.

The Writing Requirement

In addition, each Program student must complete one supervised research paper that would meet theJ.D. SAW (Substantial Analytic Writing) requirement, subject to the prior written approval by the Program of its relevance and appropriateness to the specialization. This research paper may be written as part of a course that also is used to satisfy one of the Program’s upper division curricular requirements.