by Jennifer Howard
As officers of the court, fluent in the language, creators of, or at least participants in, its local practices, lawyers sometimes forget that many would-be litigants enter the courthouse with much trepidation and misinformation. While law school on the whole seeks to prepare students for their role as knowledgeable problem solvers, clinics provide students with a unique opportunity to learn about how to use that knowledge to help real people, with real problems. Explaining the legal system is one of an attorney’s most important tasks.
The Domestic Violence Institute at Northeastern University School of Law currently offers students two opportunities to learn to advocate for survivors of domestic violence: one through the Legal Assistance to Victims Project, a new community lawyering project aimed at connecting survivors to legal services at those places they first turn to for help; the other, through the Domestic Violence Clinic, founded in 1991. While both programs strive to educate students about the unique challenges faced by survivors navigating the legal system; it is the Clinic that delivers the chance to advocate in court on their behalf. The experience of direct, in-court advocacy provides soon to be lawyers many important lessons.
Mills v. Wyman, an 1825 Massachusetts case, which is featured in one of the more popular first year casebooks, raises the question of the relationship between law and morality. Incurring various expenses, Daniel Mills cared for a 25 year old sick sailor, Levi Wyman, who then died. His father, Seth Wyman, wrote to Mills promising to pay for those expenses, but then reneged on the promise. Mills brought suit, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a lower court holding that no action lay. Consideration is required to hold liable a promisor, and according to the court, Mills had given no consideration in return for Wyman’s promise; consideration could not consist of past action. Despite their respective holdings, the lower court had termed Wyman’s conduct “a strong example of particular injustice,” and the Supreme Judicial Court stated that Wyman had a “moral obligation” to fulfill the promise. But, to the court, a violation of a “moral duty” was not equivalent to a violation of a legal one. Continue reading
Here is a question that you will never get on a law school exam: “Please state the facts and holding of Smith v. Jones.” Since you will never get that question, why would you organize your outline in this form?
Smith v. Jones
Most law school exam questions consist of new, hypothetical fact patterns. Some of us pull those patterns out of the news and modify them to suit our purposes the way legal dramas on TV do, and some of us just think them up while showering. Either way, you will not have seen the precise fact-pattern before sitting down to the exam. As a result, the answer is not already in your notes, your outline, an outline created by one of your friends, or the outline sold to you by some publishing company that profits off exam anxiety while providing next to nothing in the way of useful analysis. A commercial outline in particular should be conceptualized as a security blanket. It may reassure you to know it’s there, but there is nothing substantively provided by it.
by Jennifer Howard, Supervising Attorney of the Domestic Violence Institute
“You don’t know what he is like to live with,” explains Maria to her friend Lucy. They had been discussing holiday decorations and Lucy commented how perfect Maria’s home had been decorated, apparently by Maria’s partner. Maria goes on to describe through tears a life controlled by her partner’s endless criticism, manipulation, and physical intimidation. Maria has taken a brave step disclosing this information to her friend. How can Lucy help?
by Professor Hope Lewis, who co-founded the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy
It is now a standard observation: the legal academic, activist, and employment world is globalizing. U.S. Based law schools are partnering with schools in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and East Asia. LL.M. And S.J.D. Students from around the world have arrived in the U.S. To enrich classroom discussions and practice with their perspectives about the U.S. And about their home countries. Many well-prepared “domestic” lawyers will, at one time or the other, encounter clients, adversaries, partners, and issues that raise “global law” problems (i.e., International Comparative, Foreign, National Security, Immigration/Refugee/Asylum, Trade, Business Transactions, and the like). Many of our students and colleagues take advantage of our human rights program to engage in on-the-job learning in Switzerland, India, and Colombia. In addition to the wonderful opportunities for travel and exposure to other cultures, such opportunities offer the chance to hone language skills and to learn innovative problem-solving strategies. The “Bringing Human Rights Home” movement has once again stimulated U.S. Social justice activism on issues as broad-ranging as post-Katrina housing in New Orleans, misuse of force, racial discrimination, extrajudicial killings of young minority men, and violence and trafficking against girls and women with disabilities.