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Lynn Lu: Defending Access to Public Benefits

May 1, 2013

In her first year at CUNY Law, Clinical Law Professor Lynn Lu has enjoyed teaching the lawyering seminar to first-year students in the fall; this semester, she’s co-teaching the Economic Justice Project (EJP) with EJP founder Professor Stephen Loffredo.

Clinical Law Professor Lynn Lu

Clinical Law Professor Lynn Lu

“The students are fantastic and very engaged,” said Lu, who finds that unlike law students elsewhere, CUNY Law students have goals that closely fit the school’s public service mission.

CUNY Law students also bring into the classroom “diverse work and life experiences to draw on,” Lu said. Such rich backgrounds make for strong conversations on the issues—discussions about professional responsibility, the ideal work–life balance, and identification of students’ skills and how to use them best.

“As 2Ls build client relationships, it’s not a simulation anymore. Their decision making really matters, as do their life experience and judgment,” noted Lu.

In the EJP, 2L students get their first chance to represent clients in administrative hearings. These clients are also CUNY students trying to further their education and raise themselves out of poverty; however, they face barriers because of New York requirements involving the public benefits system.

EJP builds on existing organizing by CUNY students at the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College to challenge some of the policies that followed congressional changes to the welfare system in 1996, changes that deterred students from receiving public assistance and continuing education.

Teaching the EJP course is a good fit for Lu. Prior to teaching, she focused on poverty law and public benefits at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. The center also does some work on access to education for students, so Lu actually had worked with EJP prior to coming to CUNY Law.

Lu also has experience with criminal justice reform, having challenged racial inequality and sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The experience solidified her interest in how public benefits and criminal justice intersect, as well as how laws disproportionately affect poor and marginalized people in society.

When the CUNY Law position opened up, Lu felt the timing was right. As a teacher with EJP, she would get to do some of the same work she had done at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

In the EJP, Lu’s students will talk about the role of lawyers in a social justice movement. It’s an essential conversation for CUNY Law students to have, Lu believes.

“We need to really think about what we want the law profession to be for, and CUNY’s mission seems to get it right,” said Lu. “We have such a lack of access to justice in this country and so many resources being poured toward legal defense for organizations that are already very powerful and privileged. It would be more valuable to use a legal background to advance the mission of public interest law.”

– Paul Lin

More from CUNY Law magazine Spring 2013 »

 

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