The Community Solutions Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law will debut in the fall with projects geared toward closing equity gaps in the Charlottesville area.
The clinic will partner with the UVA Equity Center’s Community Fellows-in-Residence program, among others. The fellows are local leaders who have a history of working to reduce racial and socioeconomic inequality in the community and have a special project that could benefit from access to UVA resources.
Law professor Sarah Shalf, the clinic’s director and director of clinical programs, said the clinic’s focus is on problem-solving and community lawyering, rather than on specific legal tasks.
“As with many lawyers in business and nonprofit leadership roles, the role of the student teams will be to assess the client’s legal as well as nonlegal needs as part of the process of problem-solving to reach the client’s goals,” she said. “The client will decide the approach that is best for them, so the nature of the legal services for a given project will depend on project needs and client preferences.”
“The Equity Center envisions universities that serve local communities by bringing rich research resources to bear on the work of redressing poverty and racial inequality, and also equip students to lead in building a just society.”
- Sherica D. Jones-Lewis
UVA Equity Center director of community research
Discrete legal tasks could include drafting agreements or organizational documents, Shalf added, or the clinic might partner with another clinic to meet more significant or specialized legal needs.
Students participating in the fall may request to continue to the advanced clinic in the spring, depending on the availability of projects.
Shalf said she was inspired to start the clinic after co-teaching “Catalyzing Social Impact” at Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, an experiential course that enrolled both MBA and J.D. students. She said clinic students will be taught transferrable skills ideal for working in nonprofit or business sectors in particular.
“It looked like we needed more clinics that would be attractive to students who are not going into litigation and who might be doing corporate or business practice in a private law firm, or also students who might be interested in managing or starting a nonprofit,” she said.
The Community Solutions Clinic will be among 22 clinics offered at the Law School in the coming year.
In partnering with the Equity Center, part of the UVA Democracy Initiative, the clinic seeks to help further the center’s goal of redressing inequity through community-engaged scholarship.
“The Equity Center envisions universities that serve local communities by bringing rich research resources to bear on the work of redressing poverty and racial inequality, and also equip students to lead in building a just society,” said Sherica D. Jones-Lewis, the center’s director of community research. “This is directly in line with the work that Sarah Shalf is proposing with her Law School clinic.”
Shalf also envisions the clinic collaborating with other University departments or groups in the future.
“The people in the Charlottesville community who have lived experience with inequity, are struggling with access to justice, or are seeking to have a voice in government, are the people best positioned to understand what it takes to create lasting, positive change in these areas,” she said. “So the clinic hopes to tackle these issues by empowering members of the community to make their visions for positive change a reality.”