LAW 730

Veterans Justice Clinic: Poverty, Homelessness & Criminalization


Criminal Justice, Public Interest Law

Course Description: The Poverty, Homelessness, and Criminalization Clinic provides an exciting live-client opportunity to engage in legal services, litigation, and policy advocacy. Within a social justice and movement lawyering lens, our focus this semester is both the criminal enforcement system (e.g. policing and record clearing of criminal offenses) and the continuing harms of COVID-19 on our clients (e.g. housing and economic insecurity, disability justice, and health access). The docket will be driven by legal issues clients and community partners have brought to the clinic.  Students enrolled in the clinic this semester will serve as legal advocates for individual and organizational clients. Individual client representation will primarily focus on citation defense, expungements, and disability benefits for unhoused or housing insecure veterans. To supplement individual client work, clinic students have the opportunity to engage in policy and litigation projects partnering with grassroots and advocacy organizations focused on policing and the criminal justice system, housing justice, racial justice, or disability rights. Although projects have not been finalized, partners from prior semesters include Services Not Sweeps, National Association of Minority Veterans, Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Students will gain transferable skills for lawyering, such as factual investigation, development of case and project theory, legal research and writing, oral advocacy, advanced interviewing and counseling (often using trauma-informed techniques), and navigating lawyer-client power dynamics. Projects offer supplemental skills development such as policy-driven research and writing, advocacy strategy, and navigating ethics and lawyering identity when working with social change organizations. The clinic seminar will engage in questions of ableism, race and inequality, vulnerabilities faced by low-income veterans, as well as the role of lawyers in social change. No knowledge of the military or the military experience is needed for this clinic. Students selected for this clinic should expect significant out of class time for cases and projects (approximately 20 hours a week). Client meetings and supervision meetings outside of class time will be conducted at the Veterans Affairs West LA campus (approximately 10 minutes driving from the law school). *To allow students prompt opportunities to work with clients, an additional mandatory orientation will be held on Friday, August 20. Keep this day open and contact professors if you have questions. Policy advocacy and client representation is often unpredictable and, given the uncertainty of COVID19 and the rapidly changing policy landscape, we note that project-work sometimes changes mid-semester. Feel free to reach out to Professors Sunita Patel or Jeanne Nishimoto with any questions. UCLA Law adheres to ABA Standards in determining the number of credit hours for coursework. Each unit of credit reasonably approximates one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student preparation per week, for the length of the semester. Students are therefore expected to prepare a minimum of two hours outside of class for each hour of class time. Notwithstanding the above general standard, experiential field work units are calculated as follows by the ABA: 1 unit of credit = a minimum of 52 hours per semester (4-5 hours per week of out of class clinic work). Examples of Student Cases and Projects

  • Students wrote and submitted briefs to various courts arguing client’s traffic citations should be dismissed and fines and fees waived.
  • Students researched how other jurisdictions address public safety concerns to support ACT-LA’s report addressing equitable safety on public transit.
  • Students analyzed the LA City Homelessness Budget and prepared findings demonstrating the City’s focus on funding law enforcement in support of the Services Not Sweeps Coalition’s advocacy efforts.
  • Students created public education materials on VA police department practices in collaboration with National Association of Minority Veterans.
  • Students advocated for improved prison conditions on behalf of partially blind veteran with mental health diagnosis.
  • Students prepared and filed disability benefits appeal brief and worked with medical experts in support of veteran with diagnosis of PTSD and AIDS who was subjected to racial harassment and sexual assault while in military service. Students also assisted veteran with motions to clear fines and fees associated with quality of life citations and traffic offenses.
  • Students drafted testimony for city council and board of supervisors highlighting needs of homeless veterans during COVID19 in partnership with advocates for unhoused community.
  • Students engaged in driver’s license and record clearing advocacy for numerous veterans through a one-day clinic.
  General Information on Structure and Case Work:
  • You will be “in the driver’s seat” of your cases with careful guidance from seasoned practitioners. This means you will meet with the clients, write the briefs, and perform the oral advocacy in court, organizational client meetings, or before administrative agencies.
  • The seminar focuses on skills and the particular vulnerabilities of the homeless and veteran community (e.g. race, disability, trauma). You will gain lawyering skills transferable to any area of legal practice and will be equipped with the ability to learn a new area of law.
  • In addition to client meetings and supervision meetings, some class sessions may be held at the West LA VA.
  • Students are grouped in teams of at least two for case and project work. Each team will be assigned a primary faculty supervisor with whom you will meet weekly for at least an hour outside of seminar time.
Units:  6 (With permission prior to the start of the semester clinic faculty will consider a 4-credit option. *You must email Professors Patel and Nishimoto at the time you apply for the clinic to obtain approval for 4 credits.)

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