Poverty Law

This seminar is a broad study of poverty, poverty programs, and the U.S. civil justice system. Class topics include the history of and current access to the civil justice system, the demographics of poverty, a skills workshop on client-centered interviewing, and substantive topics such as food and income programs, health law, economic development, domestic violence law, child care law, employment, and housing. Guests who are practicing lawyers and who are specialists in the topics presented will address several of the classes. The instructor considers this to be primarily a seminar with a small clinical component. Although it is a seminar, typically the enrollment is higher than the usual seminar. Enrollment currently is capped at 16.

The seminar meets for two hours per week and two course credits are awarded. Students can choose to earn a third credit through the clinical component. Students choosing the clinical component work for a minimum of twenty hours over the semester. Most clinic placements are at the local Legal Aid office, but on many occasions, the instructor can help students who are interested to secure placements as appropriate with policy advocacy groups, Guardian Ad Litem attorney placements, private lawyers in the community representing low-income people, and an additional 20-hours with other specified Duke Law clinics (with the permission of those instructors). The course instructor will work with students to find suitable placements.

The Course Homepage on the Web includes the syllabus, links to related sites, and a web-based discussion group. Students may use this site to continue class discussion. Occasional homework assignments require posting messages on assigned topics.

A variety of pedagogical methods are used to encourage active class interaction and participation. These include hypotheticals, simulations, small group work, and a "Poverty IQ Test."

The course grade is based on a 20-to 30-page paper. (A limited number of students can meet their Advanced Writing Requirement through this seminar and their papers are a minimum of 30 pages.) In the papers, students conduct an in-depth exploration of an area of Poverty Law in which they have developed an interest. Some may choose to use their placement experience as a starting point, but most pick a different topic. Students must also complete the web-posting assignments to pass the course. The quality of participation in other aspects of the course may alter the paper grade slightly. These aspects include meaningful work on class assignments, class discussion, web discussion, class presentations, and clinical work beyond the minimal required.

The instructor requires class attendance and does not allow laptops, phones, or other computer devices to be used during class time.

This class is well suited for students who plan to work in public interest law through legal services, non-profits or the government. It is useful for students who will join firms and hope to participate in law firm pro bono projects. In addition, students who plan to be active on community boards or in elected or appointed offices may find this information useful. It is meant to expose students to a wide variety of topics within poverty law and provide students with the means to do more detailed work in the areas that they find particularly interesting.

(Students enrolled in this course are not in the Intensive Training Session required by other clinics at the start of the semester.)

This is a two-credit seminar with an optional third credit for at least 20 hours of a clinical externship.
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