Law as a Tool for Social Justice

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 with Jason Goldsmith

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.
  • Visit pertinent sites such as the New York County Criminal Court and District Attorney’s Office (inspiration for Law and Order) and the United Nations Headquarters.

Case studies come from areas such as civil rights, environmental protection, criminal justice, immigration policy, 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 mock trial/moot court preparation.

At the conclusion of the course, students, working in groups, produce a strategic advocacy project for addressing an issue of interest to them from among the subjects addressed in the course.

Familiarity with the fundamentals of American government is recommended. Students should pack a “business casual” outfit for field trips.


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. 

Jason D. Goldsmith

Jason D. Goldsmith holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Binghamton University, an M.S. in modern European history from Binghamton University, and a J.D. from Fordham School of Law. He practiced law at a New York City firm with both transactional and litigation departments, specializing in a variety of real estate business and employment discrimination cases. In addition, he represented criminal defendants as a member of the Fordham Law Clinic. As a teacher in a law-themed New York City high school for over fifteen years, he has taught an introduction to law course for sophomores and a community issues law course for seniors. Jason has also coached the mock trial team.   

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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.