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What Does a Social Justice Lawyer Do?

Published April 30, 2019 This content is archived.

Social justice law is practiced by lawyers who have incredible passion for human rights and equality. But what does social justice law look like in practice, and what does it take to become a human rights lawyer?

Here’s a quick rundown.

What Does a Social Justice Lawyer Do?

A social justice lawyer, also known as a human rights lawyer, advocates for citizens and immigrants in the U.S. who face discrimination based on the following protected categories indicated by the NYS Human Rights Law:

  • Age
  • Alienage (citizenship status)
  • Color
  • Creed (religious belief)
  • Criminal background or arrest record
  • Disability
  • Domestic violence victim status
  • Gender
  • Marital Status
  • Military Status
  • National Origin
  • Partnership status
  • Predisposing genetic characteristics
  • Race
  • Sexual Orientation

This law applies to discrimination in employment, housing, education, medical care, and other equal opportunity services.

Social justice cases are typically handled in one of two ways.

First, they may file a complaint on behalf of their client. If in New York state, the NYS Division of Human Rights will investigate the case, and if it agrees there has been discrimination, the case will proceed to an administrative hearing where the lawyer will defend their case.

Second, a lawyer may file a lawsuit in state court within three years of the most recent act of discrimination. A client cannot file both a complaint and a lawsuit.

How to Prepare in Law School to Become a Social Justice Lawyer

Because human rights and social justice can apply to many different topics, many law students choose a more specific concentration or simply plan their classes around the type of law they want to practice.

You may find one or more of the following social justice programs at your chosen law school:

As for classes, many aspiring human rights lawyers take classes in constitutional law. Typically, there are also classes on human rights violations such as family law, education law, and civil rights law.

Additionally, law students interested in becoming a social justice lawyer may apply for an internship with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Want to know more about preparing for a career in social justice & human rights? Contact our admissions staff to learn about educational opportunities!

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Guest blogger Ashley Wilson-Rew is Content Strategist & SEM at protocol 80, Inc.


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