Occidental’s one-of-a-kind Lawyering for Social Justice Program gives students hands-on experience in public-interest law, affording new insights into the legal system and a head start on law school.

Lawyering for Social Justice refers to a progressive approach to public-interest law in which lawyers collaborate directly in and with communities to solve problems. Working on equal footing, lawyers draw on the valuable knowledge and expertise of their clients. 

Oxy’s Lawyering for Scoail Justice Program is an extension of the College’s mission of equity, excellence, community and service, with the purpose of helping college students think more critically about how the legal system operates and how traditional legal practices can perpetuate inequality, rather than end it.

Launched in 2010 by Associate Professor of Politics Thalia González, this is the only program of its kind in the country for undergraduates. It gives students the opportunity to combine classroom theory with hands-on experience with socially progressive law firms and nonprofits in Los Angeles. The program consists of a two-course, 8-unit pairing to be taken concurrently—Politics 340, the classroom component, and an internship course with a community-based legal organization or law firm for a minimum of 12 hours per week. Drawing on Oxy contacts and connections in the legal community, the program also includes a semester-long Public Interest Lawyering Speaker Series.

The two courses create a balanced context from which students can develop critical consciousness; question assumptions about power, privilege and identity; learn to respect community decision-making capacities; expand their understanding of the importance of relationships in the pursuit of social change; and remain open to learning from the “lived experiences” of the community. Oxy’s location in L.A., which combines a history of legal innovation with an unfortunate array of societal inequity, makes it possible to provide students with a range of cutting-edge internship opportunities.

Open to students of all majors, the application-only program typically enrolls 12 to 15 students. Applicants must submit a resume, a written statement of why they are interested and what they will bring to the course, and be interviewed by a faculty member. They are also interviewed by their potential legal supervisor.

Program Testimonials

Law school tries to get you into the minds of judges, which is important to know about, but the idea of equal access to the law and lawyers, or issues in the housing system that perpetuate people’s inability to pay rent—those kinds of issues are definitely not addressed there. I was really glad to get in on the ground floor before even getting to law school to confront those questions.”

–Karthik Raman ’15, who interned at Public Counsel as a senior and went on to law school at the University of Minnesota.

I had cases I was responsible for, and at the weekly case review meetings it would be my responsibility to give updates. I was working with law school students and at first I was intimidated, but it helped build my confidence. I realized that I can do this.”

–Arianna Nord ’18, who interned with Public Counsel’s consumer law section, dealing primarily with victims of credit card fraud, before pursuing law school at the University of Washington.

Applying my Reb Law critique while working with federal prosecutors was a great learning experience. You can talk theory all day, but to see how it plays out is really important. Reb Law has really shaped my understanding of how I want to practice and how I want to use my expertise.”

–Katelyn Rowe ’13, who interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she had the opportunity to watch criminal trials and hearings. She is now clerking for a federal judge in Los Angeles.

Contact Politics
Johnson Hall 317

Administrative support: J 101A