The Pendulum Swings Back: Poverty Law in the Old and New Curriculum

27 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2007

See all articles by Martha F. Davis

Martha F. Davis

Northeastern University - School of Law


In the 1960s, poverty law was new to the law schools. The energy and creativity that drove its development and integration into the legal academy was tremendous. In just a few years, dozens of new courses were introduced, preparing law students to meet the legal needs of the poor and stimulating thinking about economic inequality and societal structures that perpetuate poverty. Law schools also established new poverty law clinics, enabling direct engagement with low income clients and organizations. Political shifts and poverty's intransigence eventually dampened initial ambitions of using law to end poverty. In subsequent decades, there has been periodic activity to reinvigorate poverty law within the legal academy. As yet, nothing has matched the efforts of the 1960s. However, contemporary developments in human rights law run parallel to the early days of poverty law, with similar levels of energy and creativity. Human rights clinics are on the rise, as are courses that deal with human rights, both from international and domestic perspectives. A social movement is developing outside of the academy. Likewise, funders are increasingly interested in human rights frameworks. Importantly, there is significant substantive overlap between poverty law and human rights law; indeed, poverty law is largely subsumed by the broader notion of economic and social rights. This new iteration of advocacy to end economic inequality holds new promises - by providing fresh tools to domestic advocates and engaging the global aspects of poverty. The 1960s are history, but human rights frameworks have great potential to inject new vigor into the legal academy's efforts to use law to challenge economic inequality.

Suggested Citation

Davis, Martha F., The Pendulum Swings Back: Poverty Law in the Old and New Curriculum. Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 34, No. 4, p. 1391, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Martha F. Davis (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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