Law and Social Inequality Focus Area

The Law and Social Inequality Focus Area provides a range of courses dealing with disparities based on race, poverty, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, and immigration status. It includes four foundational courses and a range of more specialized substantive and skills courses, and it culminates with a capstone seminar.

The Law and Social Inequality Focus Area is designed to help students identify and understand the range of legal issues that arise from the structural inequalities within society. As a whole, the courses offer intersectional perspectives on social inequality and lead students to reflect upon the challenges lawyers face in working on behalf of individuals and communities confronting interacting systems of oppression. Skills component courses, which provide students with real experiences of the difficulties that marginalized people face in our legal systems, are a crucial element of this focus. Ultimately, the focus leads to a capstone seminar course, which requires students to draw together and reflect on the various courses and experiences they have had throughout law school and to hear from practitioners in the field about what they are doing to address these issues and what challenges confront them in that work. We expect students to arrive at a more sophisticated understanding of the problems of social inequality and the legal system's contribution to both the creation of societal inequalities and to solutions.

Students Who Should Take this Focus Area

Students might elect to take this focus area for a variety of reasons. Some students may anticipate a career providing legal services to vulnerable populations. Students who hope to practice in small firms may also wish to elect this focus area because many of the issues studied in these courses arise in any setting where a lawyer represents a wide range of individual clients. Other students may choose this focus because of a general concern about issues of social justice, which are at the fore in this area of law. Still others may simply wish to engage in a sustained examination of legal efforts to address critical social problems.

Foundational Courses

Three foundational courses are recommended in this area to help students develop an intersectional understanding of how the law produces and sustains social inequality and how legal tools are used to combat it. Poverty Law provides a broad structural analysis of the creation of wealth disparity and explores the challenges to using legal reform to solve it. Students in Poverty Law are helped to think through critical race studies, critical disability studies and feminist approaches to understanding poverty. US Races and the Justice System addresses the racial and legal history of the major ethnic and racial groups in the United States, exploring competing definitions of race and racism and looking at how race operates in key legal and cultural institutions and systems such as the family, popular culture and the media, and the criminal justice system. Immigration Law focuses on the following aspects of immigration: admission, exclusion, deportation of noncitizens; the acquisition and loss of citizenship; the national security implications of immigration law, and state and federal laws regulating the presence of noncitizens often called "alienage laws." The course is also designed to teach basic skills in interpretation of complex statutes and administrative regulations.

Skills Component Courses

Exposure to real-life problems of poverty law is essential to the focus. Students must take at least one skills course. Skills courses range from 6-credit courses (Youth Advocacy Clinic or Family Law Clinic) to 3-4 credit clinics and externships (Administrative Law Clinic or an Inequality and Poverty Law Externship). The experience and skills gained from these courses are an essential part of the Law and Social Inequality Focus Area. Students are free to take more than one skills course.

Elective Courses

Electives include Child, Family and State, Elder Law, Environmental Justice Seminar, Health Law, Housing Law & Policy Seminar, Immigration Law, Landlord/Tenant Law, Latinos & the Law, Law and Mental Health, Public Health Law, and Race and the Law. Students completing the Law and Social Inequality Focus Area must take at least two of these courses.

Law and Social Inequality Faculty

Career Faculty
Janet Ainsworth Child, Family and State
Steve Bender Latinos and the Law
Lisa Brodoff* Administrative Law Clinic, Elder Law
Robert Chang Civil Rights Amicus & Advocacy Clinic
Paul Holland Youth Advocacy Clinic
Won Kidane Immigration Law, Immigration Law Clinic
Henry McGee Land Use Planning
Catherine O'Neill Environmental Justice Seminar
Julie Shapiro Family Formation and Recognition
Dean Spade Poverty Law, Critical Perspectives on Transgender Law, Law and Social Movements

* Focus Area Chair

Distinguished Practitioners
Ada Shen-Jaffe Advanced Civil Equal Justice Seminar

Professor from Practice
Robert Boruchowitz Right to Counsel Clinic 

Adjunct Faculty
Mark Chattin Landlord/Tenant Law
David Carlson Disability Law
Lisa Daugaard Law and Social Movements
Stephanie Earhart Public Benefits Law
Michael Finkle Law, Policy and Mental Health
Huy Nguyen Public Benefits Law
Patricia Sully Law and Social Movements

Plan the completion of your focus area with a focus area tracking form.

Course Descriptions

Foundational Courses (at least two)

  • Poverty Law (3 cr) (required) AND
  • Immigration Law (3 cr)

Required Capstone Course

  • Advanced Civil Equal Justice Seminar (3 cr)

Skills Component Courses (at least one course required)

  • Administrative Law Clinic (3 cr)
  • Domestic Violence Clinic (6 cr)
  • Immigration Law Clinic (3 cr)
  • Mental Health Court Clinic (3 cr)
  • Youth Advocacy Clinic (6 cr)
  • Inequality & Poverty Law Externship (3-4 cr)

Elective Courses (at least two courses required)

  • Child, Family and State (3 cr)
  • Domestic Violence (2 cr)
  • Elder Law (3 cr)
  • Family Dissolution and Related Issues (3 cr)
  • Environmental Justice Seminar (2 cr)
  • Health Law I (3 cr)
  • Housing Law & Policy Seminar (2 cr)
  • Immigration Law (3 cr)
  • Landlord/Tenant Law (2 cr)
  • Latinos & the Law (3 cr)
  • Law, Policy and Mental Health (3 cr)
  • Public Benefits Law (3 cr)
  • Public Heath Law (2 cr)

Additional Related Courses

Students pursuing the Law and Social Inequality Focus Area may find that related courses not strictly within the focus area are of interest. These courses include the following:

  • Consumer Law

Law and Social Inequality Co-Curricular and Enrichment Opportunities

Access to Justice Institute

Students pursuing the Law and Social Inequality Focus Area are strongly encouraged to volunteer their time through the Access to Justice Institute (or to pursue other pro bono/volunteer opportunities). The work of the Access to Justice Institute reflects the mission of the Seattle University School of Law: to lead its students toward a lifetime in law at the service of justice for all. ATJI connects the law school to the community at large, collaborating with hundreds to attorneys, judges and advocates from every field and drawing more than 300 student volunteers each year. What started in 1999 as a think-tank style consortium on social justice has evolved into a sophisticated center of legal activism, enabling students to connect their classroom learning to real clients, cases and attorneys while providing invaluable services to low-income communities. More information on volunteer opportunities through the Access to Justice Institute.

Seattle Journal for Social Justice (SJSJ)

The mission of the Seattle Journal for Social Justice (SJSJ) is to promote critical interdisciplinary discussions on urgent problems of social justice, including exploring the often-conflicting meanings of justice that arise in a diverse society. The Seattle Journal for Social Justice is a peer-reviewed, student-edited, interdisciplinary journal. It publishes writings that reflect theoretical, literary and hands-on approaches toward achieving social justice. SJSJ publishes traditional academic articles as well as non-traditional formats such as narrative, commentary, interview, essay and artwork. More information on student opportunities with SJSJ.

Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF)

The Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) is an all-volunteer organization run by Seattle University law students. PILF is committed to increasing awareness of the rewards, challenges, opportunities, and needs in public interest law. Recognizing the responsibility that members of the legal profession have in working to serve severely underrepresented legal needs, PILF engages in a number of projects, including the Summer Grant Program and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program. More information on PILF.

Sullivan Hall

Sullivan Hall