A career in gender and law can take you in many different directions. Is your passion fighting employment discrimination? Preventing domestic violence? Ending human trafficking and forced labor? Ensuring economic equality? Guaranteeing reproductive rights? Improving public policy for gay and lesbian families? Do you want to litigate? Testify on the Hill? Negotiate contracts? Mediate disputes? Work outside of the US? Work here in DC?
Gender cuts across all substantive areas of law, and lawyers who work on gender and law can be found in many types of practice, both inside and outside of the US. Some lawyers find work at non-governmental organizations dedicated to specific issues related to gender, such as “reproductive justice” or “domestic violence,” but which can affect many different kinds of people. Others work for organizations dedicated to the multiple legal needs of specific communities, such as transgender persons, or immigrant women. Some attorneys work to end discrimination or violence against women or LGBTI persons from within government agencies, such as the EEOC or the office of a prosecutor. Still others engage with public policy, as advocates, policy makers, and regulators, while many can be found in private practice as family, immigration and civil rights attorneys.
Your courses in law school are a great place to start to explore your interests and prepare for practice. Here at WCL, we offer over 15 gender and law courses each year, so the hardest part is choosing the right ones for you. A great place to start is with an overview offered in one of our five foundational courses. We offer two foundational courses that are largely domestic in focus: “Feminist Jurisprudence,” which introduces students the wide range of feminist theories as they apply to different substantive areas (like discrimination, reproduction, violence, etc.) and “Sex-Based Discrimination,” which covers the major federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. We also offer two courses that are largely overviews of gender and law in international and comparative contexts: “Introduction to Gender and International & Comparative Law,” which takes a comparative look at how law can be used around the world to promote justice for women and LGBTI persons, and “Gender, Cultural Difference, and Human Rights,” which focuses more closely on the use of human rights instruments. Finally, we offer “Sexuality and the Law,” which offers a foundation in the rights of LGBTI persons in the US.
Additionally, WCL offers an array of key electives in gender and law-related subjects each semester so you should be able to find a course in your specific areas of interest, be they human trafficking, prosecution of sexual crimes in conflict settings, or gender and poverty. Roughly half address the US domestic context, while the other half focus on international and comparative law. “Related” courses will help situate your interests in gender and LGBTI rights in broader perspective. Courses in the “related” category may include one or two units covering a gender-specific topic within a course that may not be focused on gender (for example, courses on Employment Discrimination may cover discrimination on a basis of sex for a week, and also situate those claims within the broader anti-discrimination framework.)
Finally, WCL offers outstanding experiential education, with two live-client clinics focused on gender and law, the Domestic Violence Clinic and the Women and the Law Clinic. Other clinics also often take cases with strong gender components, such as gender-based immigration claims, human rights cases or family law cases.
Students often wonder how to balance taking specialized courses in gender and law with other requirements or areas of interest. The answer differs for everyone. Public interest lawyers must be well rounded and possess the basic knowledge and skills that the communities or clients they represent need. Excellent research, writing, client counseling, and public speaking skills should be a priority for any law student. Getting live-client experience in a clinic is invaluable, regardless of the subject matter.
On the other hand, if you want a job in women’s rights or LGBTI advocacy, you must demonstrate your interest in gender and law to future employers. Taking courses (and writing papers) in the area shows potential employers that you are not only well-versed in the issues, but that you are serious about working in the field. Writing articles, joining student groups, volunteering and working in organizations dedicated to gender justice are also important to demonstrate interest and build the skills you need. It might help to remember that you can achieve multiple goals with one course (for example, enrolling in one of the gender-related clinics to gain experience working with clients, or writing a paper in Women’s Legal History that meets your ULWR, or writing a paper addressing gender in a course on Trade Law or IP.)
The faculty of WCL and the staff at the Women and the Law Program are here to help you with individualized course selection, advice and counseling to help you navigate the broad array of choices. Please visit http://www.wcl.american.edu/gender/wlp/faculty.cfm for a list of faculty with expertise in gender and law, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment with the Women and the Law Program.