Instead of resting during spring break, many UDC Law students enroll in the Service-Learning Practicum & Seminar to provide much-needed legal services to vulnerable persons in partnership with advocacy organizations around the country. These “service-learning” trips, subsidized or paid for by the School, are among the varied experiential opportunities available to UDC Law students.
The Service-Learning Practicum & Seminar combines classroom instruction with hands-on lawyering in a three-credit, spring semester course organized around a week-long service learning trip during spring break. A key innovation of UDC Law’s nationally recognized clinical and experiential lawyering program, service-learning is a teaching and learning capstone experience that integrates meaningful community and humanitarian service with instruction and reflection, thereby enriching and deepening the learning experience. The seminar meets weekly in advance of the service-learning trip, providing instruction on the role of lawyers in assisting traumatized and underrepresented communities, professional ethics, and substantive law relevant to the practicum trips. Students engage in regular reflection through journaling and video contributions and convene for several classroom sessions and a school-wide report back presentation upon their return.
UDC Law Professors Susan Waysdorf, Laurie Morin, and the late William McLain, the service-learning program was first launched in 2006 as Katrina and Beyond: Disaster Prevention and Recovery, Social Justice and Government Accountability, as a means of meeting the urgent legal needs of the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. During the program’s early years, UDC Law students and professors won the release of dozens of Louisiana prisoners “lost” in the prison system in Katrina’s aftermath and assisted families in establishing home ownership in support of FEMA, insurance, and later Road Home Program claims; provided legal assistance to homeowners, renters, the elderly and disabled, and those seeking claims against unscrupulous contractors; and advocated for migrant workers who had come to New Orleans seeking work but who had been denied pay by those who hired them and who lived in squalor instead of the conditions they had been promised.
The program has since evolved to expand to serve other communities in crisis. These practicums and their locations might change from year to year. But they will always be in areas where long-term social justice problems need addressing, whether from a recent disaster, man-made or natural, or due to a history of poverty and civil rights abuses. Past service trips sent students to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Delta region to work on a variety of post-Katrina and BP oil spill-related legal and humanitarian issues, provide pro bono service to the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) and explore the history of the civil rights movement as well as immigrant justice missions to the Arizona-Mexico border area, Karnes City, Texas, and Berks County, Pennsylvania, immigrant family detention centers.
Professor Waysdorf, in collaboration with UDC Law Professor and Gender Justice Project Director Laurie Morin, has written extensively on the importance of service-learning and reflective lawyering opportunities to the law school curriculum, including “Teaching the Reflective Approach Within the Service-Learning Model” in The Journal of Legal Education and “The Service-Learning Model in the Law School Curriculum: Expanding Opportunities for the Ethical-Social Apprenticeship” in the New York Law School Law Review. Professor Waysdorf has lectured at law schools and professional conferences across the country, drawing national attention to the importance of service in the law school curriculum. She also models why “service matters” in her own life, having spent her 2008 sabbatical leave in New Orleans volunteering for community-based recovery groups.