Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic: Real-World Experience, Meaningful Impact for Law Students

By Heather Abraham posted 12-14-2020 07:56 PM


I hail from the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where tourists are invited to “come for the culture but stay because your car won’t start.”[1] Four months ago, however, I became a newly minted western New Yorker. (I’ll wait at least one winter before drawing weather comparisons.)

The magnetic pull to Buffalo was strong, even during a pandemic.

I came to direct the Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic, a real-client experiential program that teaches student attorneys litigation skills through representing public interest clients. It is based at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo School of Law.

Many attorneys have never participated in a law school clinic, despite their increased popularity and the ABA’s requirement that students take at least six experiential credits in law school.[2] Indeed, clinics are still a relatively new phenomenon in legal education.[3]

Therefore, I’m writing to familiarize our readers with the Clinic and highlight how we might collaborate to (1) serve your practice and pro bono interests and (2) offer meaningful learning opportunities to the colleagues who will soon join our ranks.


How We Can Partner:

  • Referrals: We accept a range of public interest cases, from advising journalists in seeking government documents to representing individuals whose civil rights have been violated, described in more detail here. Please refer pro bono matters to us if your firm is unable to accept them. Your recommendation matters to us.
  • Co-counsel: Often private counsel lack capacity to accept cases and clients that matter to them. Working with a law school clinic can extend your capacity and impact. Partnering on a case is also invaluable to our students. Co-counsel relationships enable students to meaningfully contribute to a matter while observing how experienced attorneys make decisions, talk to clients, and negotiate with opposing counsel. These opportunities broaden student attorney exposure and shape their lawyering habits and persona.
  • Expertise: We have developed expertise in civil rights, civil liberties, the First Amendment, government accountability and transparency, freedom of information, and newsgathering rights, among other topics. We may be able to provide expertise to assist you in existing cases or evaluating potential claims.
  • Policy Advocacy: Often litigation exposes problems that need legislative solutions. In our Clinic, we engage in policy advocacy in addition to litigation. We welcome your insight on what needs legislative attention—especially regarding access to justice and the enforcement or advancement of civil rights, civil liberties, and freedom of information. We also advocate changes to court rules and procedure.
  • Mentorship: Our students need mentors. I cannot emphasize that enough. Practitioners enjoy engaging with our students. Our students are asking the same questions you once did. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve compiled a lot of wisdom on the topics that most interest our students—from succeeding in law school to networking to find that first legal internship or job to finding a practice area that fits. Please consider a formal or informal mentorship with our students.
  • Creative Ideas: There are as many ways to partner with clinics as there are attorneys. If you have an idea in mind, please contact us.
  • Clinic Network: Our Clinic practices in New York state and federal courts. We have a relatively wide geographic reach. But if the matter falls outside our reach, we are glad to connect you to other law school clinics that may pursue the matter.

To learn more about the Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic, please visit our website. On our website, you will find our client application.

Please contact me directly at [email protected].


Heather R. Abraham ([email protected]) is Director of the Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic and Associate Professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo School of Law. Her scholarship focuses on civil rights and fair housing litigation and policy.

[1] Minnesota Culture Meme,

[2] American Bar Association, Standard 303, available at

[3] See, e.g., Jane H. Aiken, Teaching and Doing: The Role of Law School Clinics in Enhancing Access to Justice, 73 Fordham L. Rev. 997-1011 (2004), available at (describing the evolution of clinic legal education and its future) (“Thirty years ago a hardy band of public defenders and legal services attorneys stormed the academy….”).

1 comment



12-16-2020 10:42 AM

Welcome to New York and thank you for posting this information on this program.  This is a great resource for New York lawyers.