The Systemic Justice Project at Harvard Law School and the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University Law School are collaborating to help create a year-long pilot project called “The Justice Initiative.”

What Is the Justice Initiative?

A community of social-justice-oriented law students, lawyers, law-school faculty, legal organizations, organizers, and activists devoted to thinking creatively about the role lawyers can play in reimagining, dismantling, and remaking unjust systems, working to repair longstanding injustices, assisting law students hoping to pursue justice-oriented careers, and providing opportunities for further study, engagement, advising, organizing, and collaboration among its members.

Why Now?

There’s nothing new about the systemic problems laid bare by recent crises. This is, however, a pivotal historical moment. In the midst of a global pandemic, a national reckoning with centuries of systemic racism, a growing climate catastrophe, a polarized population on the eve of a critical presidential election, now is the time to mobilize for justice. Now is the time to examine society’s deeply embedded power dynamics, deconstruct the structures that produce and reproduce inequalities, and join the movements to rebuild a more just and equitable society.

What Do We Offer Law Students?

The Justice Initiative will bring together justice-oriented systemic lawyers, law professors, and law students to provide presentations, panel discussions, and other forms of interactive programming designed to cover elements of legal education and legal theory that are generally not included in traditional law school curricula (e.g., critical race theory, critiques of legal education, systemic lawyering) with an eye toward various justice-oriented movements (e.g., Black Lives Matter, #metoo, and climate justice) and justice-related topics (e.g., organizing, rigged politics, and self-care in the midst of a movement). There will also be a retreat, career advice, and other opportunities  for law students interested in pursuing systemic-lawyering careers. 

What is Required? 

All that is required for law students to participate in the Justice Initiative is a commitment to help build this justice-centered community and to attend roughly ten 3-hour online Saturday programming sessions online between October 3 and April 10. Participation in the Justice Initiative is free and all materials will be provided. Space is limited, so some application or registration process may be used to select among applicants. 

What Else Is Offered? 

The Justice Initiative will provide opportunities for participation in reading and discussion groups. We hope to encourage and facilitate office hours with law-school faculty and legal practitioners as well as advising and mentoring sessions between law students and justice-oriented legal practitioners. There will also be resources for students and other participants interested in learning about or coordinating actions at other Institutions. Those offerings will be optional.

How Can You Learn More?

An informational webinar for law students was held on September 12. Interested students can learn more by watching session here

An informational webinar for lawyers and law professors was held on September 19. Lawyers who would like to learn more can watch that video here

For those lawyers who already know they want to participate but want to learn about the variety of ways to be involved, here is a shorter video containing just that information.

See our FAQ post here.

Please email any questions or suggestions that you might have at the following email address: 2020justiceinitiative@gmail.com.

How Can You Apply To Participate?

Students who attended the informational webinar or watched the video can apply to participate in the 2020 Justice Initiative here: https://tinyurl.com/jistudentapplication.

Lawyers and law professors can register to participate here: https://tinyurl.com/jiregistration.

SJP Embarks on Joint Venture to Support Law Students, Legal Organizations, and Communities Most Impacted by COVID-19 Crisis

Summer Institute_05-01

The Systemic Justice Project, the People’s Parity Project, and Justice Catalyst expect to bring over 100 law student fellows into the first-of-its-kind COVID–19 Legal Rapid Response + Systems Summer Institute.

On June 1, the People’s Parity Project, the Systemic Justice Project, and Justice Catalyst will launch the COVID–19 Rapid Response + Systems Summer Institute, a first-of-its kind fellowship to bring hundreds of law students together with more than 50 legal organizations to assist the communities most devastated by the public-health crisis. Over 100 law students will join the Institute as full-time People’s Justice Fellows, who will work to provide support to legal organizations from around the country and participate in Institute programming aimed at helping to build the next generation of social justice-oriented lawyers.

Public interest legal organizations researching urgent policy reforms and providing direct services to indigent, marginalized, and otherwise vulnerable clients and communities face unprecedented need during the  COVID–19 crisis. Decades of decisions by policymakers and judges have created rigged systems in which low-income workers, people of color, and other marginalized groups are the most at-risk in times of crisis; the systemic theft from these communities means that they now lack the resources—legal and otherwise—to protect themselves in the face of a global health and economic crisis. At the same time, many law students across the country have lost their summer internships as many legal employers have been forced to cancel or scale back their summer plans to provide full-time employment, supervision, and mentorship to aspiring lawyers.

The Systems Summer Institute is bridging that gap by putting those law students to work on COVID-response projects that serve the public good. The Institute—through its more than 100 full-time Fellows—will support organizations advocating for unemployment insurance applicants, developing policy recommendations for safe and fair elections under social distancing conditions, studying the racialized impacts of the pandemic, and more. Through this work, the Institute will play a crucial role in the national response to the current exigencies and in shaping longer-term responses to deeper systemic injustices highlighted by the crisis.

The three organizations partnering to build the Institute have each made a unique mark on the legal landscape in recent years. The People’s Parity Project, a non-profit founded in 2018, has successfully organized law students and new lawyers in the effort to demystify and dismantle coercive legal tools in order to create a legal system that works for all; in 2019, the organization was named one of Law360’s “legal lions,” and has since been identified as one of the key players in the burgeoning law student labor movement. The Systemic Justice Project, a Harvard Law School-based policy innovation collaboration, serves to identify injustice, design solutions, promote awareness, and advocate reforms to policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public, all with the aim of identifying and addressing common and systemic sources of injustice. The Systemic Justice Project carries out its mission through cutting edge teachingconferences, and collaborations with justice-oriented lawyers, academics, advocates, and activists. Justice Catalyst activates path-breaking approaches to social justice lawyering that have real-world impact and improve the lives of those denied access to justice. Justice Catalyst takes on social justice issues that fall between the cracks of traditional advocacy models, and applies a cross-disciplinary approach to the law. Justice Catalyst also administers a fellowship program to support new attorneys in innovative public interest work at non-profit organizations. Together, the three organizations aim to create lasting change within the legal profession, ultimately resulting in a legal system that works for workers, consumers, and all of the millions of people  who have too often been left out and left behind.

“COVID–19 may have been unavoidable, but the systemic policy and legal failures we are seeing throughout the U.S. were not,” said People’s Parity Project National Organizing Director, Molly Coleman. “It is unacceptable for low-income workers, people of color, and otherwise marginalized groups to be left behind in a crisis, and we will not allow these disparities to persist as we build what comes next in this country. Through the Institute, we aim to provide both short-term and long-term capacity for building more just systems, and we think it is a powerful message that hundreds of law students from across the country are excited to join in this effort.”

Jon Hanson, the Alan A. Stone Professor of Law and the Faculty Director of the Systemic Justice Project, noted the importance of the legal profession’s involvement in the current moment. “Our existing legal structures are built to ensure that the brunt of any crisis falls hardest on certain disadvantaged and marginalized groups. The Institute is bringing together a remarkable cohort of committed law students who will not only work hard to meet urgent law-related needs posed by the crisis, but also think creatively and critically about the role that lawyers can play in helping to remake unjust systems going forward.” In that way,” Hanson added, “the Institute hopes to promote a future in which the legal profession and the law primarily advance justice and not the interests of the powerful.”

“The Institute is a response to multiple critical needs,” explained Jacob Lipton, Systemic Justice Project Co-Director and Fellowships Director at Justice Catalyst. “Justice-oriented law students and legal organizations are both hurting right now. Most importantly, the communities served by those legal organizations are hurting. Through the People’s Justice Fellowship, we aim to serve as a coordinating body, uniting students eager to do systemic work with organizations in need of exactly that energy and added capacity in order to serve the most vulnerable communities in this crisis.”

Interested in supporting our work? We are committed to making sure all of our fellows are compensated for their work, and we’re providing additional support for students who have financial needs to be able to do this work. Donate to support our Summer Institute Hardship Fund, which provides direct financial assistance to summer fellows experiencing financial hardship.

Learn more:


Logo small

A collaboration between People’s Parity Project (PPP), the Systemic Justice Project (SJP), and the Justice Catalyst (JC) announces a COVID-19 Rapid Response/Systems Summer Institute, which will engage law students in full-time (or part-time) summer legal fellowships, working with legal and law-related organizations on the front lines of responding to the COVID-19 crisis. While working on urgent projects, fellows will also participate in additional educational and community-building programming.

Fellows will work individually or on teams on a variety of projects aimed at ensuring the most vulnerable members of our society obtain the support they need and meet the legal challenges they face in this public health and economic crisis, including:

  • Direct client work (e.g., law-related work, such as staffing a helpline or assisting individuals with unemployment insurance forms)
  • Legal research/writing (e.g. memos, reports, know your rights materials)
  • Advocacy efforts

The Institute will consist of law student summer fellows, working on projects proposed by partner organizations and attorneys, under the supervision and project management of the Summer Institute’s Organizing Committee, with additional supervision and mentorship from partner organizations and from volunteer attorneys.

For more information, click here!


Logo small

A collaboration between People’s Parity Project (PPP), the Systemic Justice Project (SJP), and the Justice Catalyst (JC) announces a COVID-19 Rapid Response/Systems Summer Institute, which will engage law students in full-time (or part-time) summer legal fellowships, working with legal and law-related organizations on the front lines of responding to the COVID-19 crisis. While working on urgent projects, fellows will also participate in additional programming, described below.

Fellows will conduct research, write memos or reports, produce “know your rights” materials, and otherwise assist with projects aimed at ensuring the most vulnerable members of our society obtain the support they need and meet the legal challenges they face in this public health and economic crisis.

Specific projects will continue to develop in response to the current crisis and the needs of partner organizations. Sample projects could include:

  • identifying state-level legal barriers to instituting vote-by-mail for the November election;
  • assessing the authority of governors to free individuals held in detention in public health crises;
  • supporting individuals applying for unemployment insurance;
  • identifying means of holding individuals accountable for marketing sham cures for COVID-19;
  • supporting advocacy efforts for states to provide unhoused people with either temporary or permanent access to housing.

Fellows will receive three tiers of supervision/mentorship:

  1. the program’s coordinating and supervising team composed of members of PPP/SJP/JC;
  2. the lawyers and members of partner organizations who provide projects and with whom fellows will work directly; and
  3. volunteer attorneys, who will devote a fixed number of hours per week supervising specific students/teams.

In most cases the host organization will be People’s Parity Project but specific placements may vary. The coordinating team will include Molly Coleman, Jacob Lipton, and Jon Hanson.

The additional programming will be led by the Systemic Justice Project, and is designed to build community and provide participants a chance to share lessons, learn about different kinds of justice-oriented lawyering, compare different theories of change, examine deeper systemic problems revealed by the pandemic, and consider what opportunities the crisis might create for advancing long-term systemic change. It will include workshops with community organizers, social activists, justice-oriented lawyers, clinical faculty, and podium faculty from a variety of organizations and institutions.

If you are a law student potentially interested in participating either as a part time volunteer or a full time fellow, a lawyer potentially interested in providing pro bono supervision, or an individual or organization potentially interested in proposing projects, please complete this form:  https://harvard.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_78qGEWt1RhVEDqd

If you have a specific project to propose, please submit it here. Projects could be for an individual student or a team of students, and can vary in length and time commitment: https://harvard.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0OpMPioBvhzNfoh

We have secured limited funding to support this work, and also intend to qualify for summer public interest funding from law schools where possible.

Please distribute this message widely to organizations, lawyers, and students!

If you have any questions, please contact jlipton@law.harvard.edu and molly@peoplesparity.org

Systemic Lawyering In Times of Crisis Webinar

Systemic Lawyering Series Flyer

Free and open to the public. Join events via Zoom

Details here.

The series will feature systemically oriented lawyers and activists in fields most affected by our latest crisis: housing, immigration, disability, employment, consumer/credit, incarceration, voting rights, climate, health care, and more.

Each session will examine the special challenges posed by the crisis, the revised priorities and strategies being adopted, and the new collaborations being forged. We will consider the pressing needs, the new opportunities, and the more general lessons for lawyers, law students, and others committed to promoting systemic change.

Upcoming Events

This week’s session, Tuesday May 12 at 12pm EST, will focus on domestic violence and feature the following panelists:

  • Stephanie Davidson, UCLA Law School
  • Christine Perumal, Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project
  • Jessica Spector, Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project

Past Sessions

Tuesday  May 5 – focus on the COVID-19 Rapid Response/Systems Summer Institute. The session featured the following contributors:

  • Molly Coleman: Co-Founder and National Organizing Director of People’s Parity Project;
  • Matthew Duffy: Catalyst Fellow, Center for Popular Democracy;
  • Alana Greer: Co-Founder, Community Justice Project;
  • Jon Hanson: Faculty Director, Systemic Justice Project; and
  • Jacob Lipton: Program Director, Systemic Justice Project.

Panelists provided an overview of the summer institute and answered specific questions regarding lawyers and organizations looking for help might make a project proposal. 

Tuesday  April 28 – focus on economic inequity in the time of COVID-19 (video here).

Tuesday  April 21 – focus on criminal legal system (video coming soon):

Tuesday  April 14 – focus on immigration (video here):

Wednesday April 8 – special session on decarceration (video here):

Tuesday April 7 (video here):

Tuesday March 31 (video here):

Learn about the COVID-19 Rapid Reaction/Systems Summer Institute here.