By Deborah Lohse, Associate Director of Media and Internal Communications, Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University School of Law is best known for its national ranking in technology law. What is less well-known is that the curriculum—for tech-law students and others—comes to life through a lens of social justice.
That’s seen in courses on broadband technology that focus on internet access for poor communities. Or, when a tech-law professor convenes dozens of people for an all-day “hackathon” using coding and legal skills to help people with criminal records get those records reduced or expunged. Or, when the High Tech Law Institute, working with the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, plans a seminar on whether technology’s ability to “predict” criminal outcomes might harm vulnerable populations.
“Regardless of their career path, by going through our courses, professional clinics, international programs or volunteer opportunities, our students are learning to internalize a drive to give back,” said Anna Han, interim dean of Santa Clara Law.
The popular high-tech field is just one discipline where this is happening. Recently, the Law School’s Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic started a version of its startup legal advisory services in the heart of San Jose, CA. There, resource-challenged young entrepreneurs, who would otherwise never be able to afford legal advice, get free counsel from law students supervised by licensed attorneys.
Internationally, well over a dozen Santa Clara Law students work each year for hours inside and outside of the classroom through the International Human Rights Clinic, documenting and arguing against human rights violations in the United States and abroad. Recent work includes reports before United Nations bodies addressing human rights violations against immigrants in the U.S.; legal briefs before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in support of environmental human rights defenders and on the so-called “death penalty phenomenon“; public comments to the U.N. regarding a draft treaty in the area of business and human rights; and a brief addressing environmental and human rights violations associated with a dam in Belize, in a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Santa Clara Law’s Center for Global Law and Policy has the largest law study abroad program in the country. It offers programs with a specific focus on social justice in four different locations: The Hague (international criminal justice); Geneva (international law); Sydney (forced migration and environmental law); and Costa Rica (human rights in the Americas). Twenty-two students recently completed social justice/human rights-focused externships in London, Ireland, Malta, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Sydney, Melbourne and Fiji.
Closer to home, each year, roughly 18 students take a course with Santa Clara Law’s Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP), in which they help to interview witnesses, draft and finalize briefs, or chase down new evidence to help free wrongfully incarcerated clients in California. Two former students recently joined NCIP at a San Jose court as Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon—himself a 1995 Santa Clara Law alumnus—dismissed the charges against NCIP client Lionel Rubalcava, who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years.
“I never forgot about that case,” said former student Roujin Mozaffarimehr ’08 JD ’14, now an immigration lawyer. Seeing the criminal justice system up close at NCIP “was so important to me…(it) really solidified the feeling that I was on the right career path,” she said.
Law school leaders point proudly to the number of alumni who have turned such experiences into their life’s work. Internationally, Santa Clara Law graduates can be found in the International Criminal Court at the Hague; Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Prosecutor’s Office; International Labor Organization in Geneva; U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, among other organizations.
In the Bay Area, graduates who spent time with Santa Clara Law’s Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center have gone on to leadership positions at legal services firms like the Watsonville Law Center, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Step Forward Foundation and more. Each year, more than 65 students get direct legal experience at the Alexander Law Center, helping community members with immigration, consumer or workers’ rights matters through community outreach and educational workshops, advice clinics and legal representation.
The easy availability of so many clinics, hands-on courses, and other opportunities to help others changes every student, said Karen Shulz, a 2010 graduate who worked at the Alexander Law Center and now runs Step Forward, an organization that helps immigrants and others who are victims of crime. Schulz knows that everyone follows a different career path after graduation. But just spending time in service with the Alexander Law Center can be life-changing, even for tech or corporate law students. “It just changes their perspective,” she said. “It may not change their career trajectory, but it’s going to change their perspective.”