Attorneys who seek to protect civil rights and liberties can be found in a variety of arenas. Some focus on direct legal services or class action litigation to enforce existing civil rights laws in areas such as employment, education, housing, criminal justice, disability, first amendment, immigrant’s rights, LGBT rights, prisoner’s rights, public accommodations, religious rights, voting rights, and women’s rights, or to set new precedents in emerging areas like international human rights or technology and civil liberties.
Others may choose to use legislative advocacy to change laws to better protect civil rights and liberties. Increasingly, civil rights lawyers are embracing non-litigation strategies as well, so community organizing and media advocacy may also come into play. Attorneys might work on civil rights from within the government at the federal or state level; from the nonprofit sector; or even from the private sector at a plaintiffs’ side law firm or through pro bono work while at a defense-side firm. Each of these venues offer different advantages and face different constraints.
Constitutional law is essential to understanding the fundamentals of civil rights law, and many civil rights attorneys also recommend Federal Courts, as that is where many of their cases end up. Civil rights attorneys must be strategic, creative, and flexible in their use of the law. Given the breadth of areas in which civil rights lawyers practice, students should work to expose themselves to a variety of perspectives and thinking and select courses that challenge them to think deeply about existing problems.
Lawyers engaged in civil rights and civil liberties work should also be able to relate to the community and the clients they work with. Their work frequently spans client counseling, negotiation, advocacy, and alternative dispute resolution. Experiential courses, particularly clinic, are essential to developing the client orientation essential to civil rights advocacy. Each clinical offering provides client contact and essential lawyering skills such as interviewing, case theory development, fact investigation, counseling, and negotiation that will well-serve students interested in civil rights and civil liberties.