Social Justice as a Professional Duty: Effectively Meeting Law Student Demand for Social Justice by Teaching Social Justice as a Professional Competency
62 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2018 Last revised: 14 Nov 2018
Date Written: June 1, 2018
Teaching students to practice by considering the social justice implications of all of their actions takes a concerted, law school wide effort. Students must learn to define social justice in a way meaningful to them. They must learn to see where power imbalance is imbedded in substantive law and its application. They must learn traditional and non-traditional practice skills relevant to addressing the needs of the legally marginalized, including the ability to seek out and hear the voices of the marginalized and learning to follow their lead. They must learn that their professional identity must include striving for social justice in all of their work, whether it be work for the less powerful or work that impacts on the less powerful. Law school stakeholders are demanding this social justice focus. This is seen in the increase in law student applications, with applicants declaring that social justice is a primary motivation for attending law school. It is seen in bar associations and other professional groups calling for access to justice initiatives. It is seen in law school accreditors and educational observers calling out law schools on failing to teach professionalism, morals, and social justice values and demanding it.
This article suggests taking advantage of this convergence of demand for the benefit of the marginalized. Using the education model being adopted by law school accreditors that asks law schools to define law practice competencies and then create learning objectives toward teaching those competencies, it asks law schools to define practicing with a social justice lens as a competency lawyers must have to practice. It then asks law set the learning objectives to teach this, including that students must define social justice for themselves, learn to see whether particular laws and legal systems comport with social justice, and develop a plan to represent people and take action when social justice demands it. It suggests these objectives must not just be taught in a marginalized course or courses but across the curriculum. It suggests having students create a social justice credo throughout their time in law school that they modify throughout school as their conception of social justice and their professional identities develop. It discusses how teachers can teach about social justice, suggesting it must be done intentionally, and suggests possible goals and objectives for individual syllabi. Finally, it looks at a potential credo and describes how it could be used in competency education terms as a description of the school’s learning objectives, an exercise used to accomplish those objectives, and an assessment tool to see if they have been met.
Keywords: social justice, competencies, learning objectives, marginalized, oppress, oppressed, Carnegie, objectives, accredit, accreditation, power, power imbalance, professional, professionalism, professional formation, access to justice, professional responsibility, moral
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation