Law as a Tool for Social Justice (Online)

Open to students entering grades 11 or 12 or freshman year of college in the fall
II - July 21–August 7, 2020
Days & Time:
Monday–Friday, 9:10 –11:00 a.m. and 1:10–3:00 p.m.
James O'Brien

Familiarity with the fundamentals of American government is recommended.

“I have gained so much knowledge about law and mostly about myself. I have a much better understanding of what I want to do in life.”  – Alyson F. | Colonia, New Jersey

Course Description

Knowledge of law and legal process can be used as a tool to address issues of social justice. Whether a lawyer or a layperson, there is opportunity for individuals to engage in advocacy, whether on behalf of a single battered woman or in support of displaced refugees. In this course, which focuses primarily on the legal system in the United States, we:

  • Survey the fundamentals of substantive law, such as criminal law, constitutional law, property law, contract law, and torts.
  • Explore legal procedure as a means to enhance – or frustrate – justice.
  • Look closely at successful litigation and political movements as means of bringing about social change.
  • Meet legal practitioners in a variety of advocacy areas who share how they use the law to achieve the ends of justice.

Case studies are drawn from areas such as civil rights, environmental protection, criminal justice, immigration policy, disabilities law, international human rights, family law, and animal rights.

Participants should be willing to dedicate several hours per week on case law readings, drafting of briefs, and related debate and mock trial/moot court related tasks.

At the conclusion of the course, students, working in groups, produce strategic advocacy projects for addressing issues of interest to them from among the subjects addressed in the course.

Familiarity with the fundamentals of American government is recommended.


James O'Brien

James P. O'Brien holds a B.A. in history and geography from the University of Albany, an M.S. in secondary school education from Hofstra University, and a J.D. from Albany Law School of Union University. Having practiced law with a general practice firm, he has a broad exposure to the myriad areas of legal practice. His work as a high school legal instructor has included work with students on advocacy projects, such as on behalf of a death row inmate, as well as a successful clemency petition on behalf of an incarcerated battered woman. Jim has served as coordinator of an interdisciplinary criminal law and forensic science program and as an LSAT instructor with Baruch College of the City University of New York; he has taught in the Columbia Summer Program since 2001. 

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Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.