How to Make Social Justice Your Law Career | Martindale-Avvo

Turn your Love of Social Justice into a Law Career

People with a passion for social justice might find a legal career is an ideal fit. There are a number of avenues to take that combine legal training with making a difference. Depending on how you want to use your legal knowledge, you can work one-on-one with people or support organizations working towards equality. 

In order to make the most of your social justice legal career, you can start thinking now about ways to start getting involved. Then you can turn your mind to some specific practice areas that impact social justice. 

Legal Practice Areas for Social Justice Lawyers

Social justice is a broad concept, encompassing a vast array of initiatives that are designed to improves lives of individuals and support the health of communities. Below is just a sampling of some legal practice areas you might want to explore in a legal career focused on social justice. 

Poverty Law

Poverty lawyers work on the ground with people experiencing barriers because of a lack of income or insufficient income. Poverty lawyers can help people to access a variety of social and economic supports to improve their quality of life. They also can help people to assert their legal rights to housing and fair wages. Some poverty law experts also work on public policy issues to advance the interests of people living in poverty. 

Non-Profit Administration

Social justice organizations typically operate as non-profit organizations and therefore must meet state and federal regulatory requirements. Lawyers working in non-profit administration work at this level ensuring compliance so the organization’s board of directors and frontline staff can focus on the core mission. Lawyers can also work to support the legal aspects of the running of the organization, such as human resources, workplace safety, and finance.

Criminal Defense

It is not uncommon for social justice advocates to end up in circumstances where the legality of their actions is called into question. They might face arrest or detainment at protests or during other social justice activities. Criminal defense attorneys help to secure and assert the legal rights of these individuals, in some cases even helping to change or advance the law. 

Housing Law

Lawyers who work in the housing area help fight illegal evictions and rent increases. They also help people secure housing who might face barriers because of income or forms of discrimination. Some housing lawyers also work to prevent redevelopment of housing sites into new complexes that previous tenants cannot afford. As on the ground advocates, they also provide a voice in the public policy arena to urge governments to protect and create affordable housing.

Immigration and Refugee Law

Lawyers who work with refugees help them with their claims to stay in the United States. Some lawyers also liaise with social justice organizations whose members help support refugees while they wait for claims processing, by helping them to find a place to live and a means to support themselves. Immigration lawyers help people in diverse circumstances to come to the U.S. and to say here and acquire citizenship if they so desire.

Human Rights and Discrimination

Human rights lawyers typically help people whose rights are denied despite human rights legislation. These individuals might face discrimination because of race, gender, disability, or another prohibited ground. These lawyers help people to launch claims against employers and other institutions who might have violated their civil rights. As with other types of social justice lawyers, they often advocate in general to advance civil rights.

Public Policy

Lawyers also often work for legislators, senators or members of congress, in developing important laws that help alleviate inequality. You can work directly for elected representatives or for advocacy organizations that lobby governments to include important initiatives in new legislation. Public policy lawyers can work with others who seek long-term changes structural inequities. 

How to Make Social Justice a Part of Your Legal Career

Even before you enter law school, you can get started with a career focused on social justice. The more you explore the opportunities available, the better idea you might have of how you want to use your legal skills once you obtain them. 

Take Undergraduate Courses in Social Justice

Your undergraduate degree is a perfect time to learn about the various aspects of social justice. You can take this time to learn about issues and areas you might not have had prior exposure to before starting school. Look at courses in social work, political science, and other community focused programs to get increased knowledge. These courses might also give you access to professors and advocates already working in the areas of social justice. 

Volunteer for Social Justice Organizations

Take time to give a few hours a week to non-profits and other organizations that are doing daily work on advancing social justice. This gives you important knowledge of the real world application of social justice work. You can also meet people who provide firsthand knowledge of what’s needed from lawyers in this area. You can also learn if doing a combined master’s degree with a J.D. provides any additional benefit for having the greatest impact on the most number of people. 

Network with Lawyers Who Work in Social Justice

If you follow social justice issues on social media or stay up-to-date with what’s happening in your community, you likely will come across prominent figures in social justice movements. Often these people are in legal practice. Take the initiative to get in touch with them or their firm, to see if there are internship opportunities for people looking to get involved. This will help you to learn more about the practical aspects of social justice work. It also provides a critical networking opportunity for when you do graduate law school and it’s time to get a job.

Lawyers have a long history of work as social justice advocates. If you want to get more involved with social justice, start early. Do what’s within your skill set to learn all you can and meet people in the field. When you’re ready to start your practice, consider working with Martindale-Avvo to market and promote your firm so you can do good work for causes that are important to you.

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