Public Interest lawyering requires knowledge beyond the law. Many lawyers who work at nonprofits quickly learn that their responsibilities involve many tasks for which law school may not have prepared them, such as writing fundraising letters, interacting with the media, and giving board presentations. This fall, Brooklyn Law School is offering a new class devoted to both the theory and the practice of the law in this field. Set within a legal writing framework, the class focuses on combining the writing and advocacy skills needed to conduct a public interest law practice.
“We are excited to teach this very unique class and to add to BLS’s vibrant public interest community,” said Professors Aliza Kaplan and Cynthia Godsoe.
The course is co-taught by its creators, Professors Cynthia Godsoe and Aliza Kaplan, both of whom have a public interest background. Godsoe was an attorney engaging in impact litigation and direct services at a number of organizations including Advocates for Children and Legal Aid. Kaplan was previously the deputy director of the Innocence Project. She also co-founded the New England Innocence Project where she litigated post-conviction claims for prisoners seeking to prove their innocence and managed the organization’s fundraising and media activities.
Godsoe and Kaplan will highlight various models of public interest lawyering and ethical issues confronting attorneys in this field. Students are tasked with drafting a range of documents essential to a public interest practice, both in a litigation and non-litigation context. Many of the practical assignments will entail collaborative work around fundraising and marketing for a student’s ideal public interest organization.
The class is unique in that it focuses on specific, practical areas necessary for successful client interaction. Students learn how to “hear” a client’s voice and bridge divides of difference, develop interviewing skills when meeting with clients, understand and evaluate various ethical issues involved with cases, and learn how to navigate strategies to serve the public interest. Perhaps one of the most helpful aspects of the class is the focus Godsoe and Kaplan give to working with the media and to learning the reality of working in a nonprofit setting.
This new course is an outgrowth of the strong public interest community at the Law School and the demand to keep the curriculum relevant to those interested in pursuing public interest work when they graduate. The Law School is well known for its emphasis on public service and was recently recognized by the National Jurist as one of the top law schools in the country in this field.