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Stanford Law School to launch civil rights clinic under direction of newly appointed professor

Stanford Law School, which pioneered clinical legal education in the 1970s, will offer a new civil rights clinic this fall directed by newly appointed Associate Professor of Law (Teaching) Michelle Alexander.

Alexander, a Law School alumna, served as associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California and director of its Racial Justice Program until May. She is the second professor hired in the Law School's new initiative to build an expert in-house clinical faculty.

Alexander's course, which begins next January, will be an introduction to civil rights litigation and advocacy. "I want students to have the opportunity to participate in major civil rights cases and learn how litigation can be used effectively as a tool to achieve social change when it is combined with other tactics, such as media advocacy, lobbying, coalition-building and grassroots organizing," she said.

In partnership with other civil rights organizations, Alexander plans to explore subjects such as racial profiling and unequal incarceration rates in the criminal justice system. Although such disparity has been around a long time, Alexander said, racial profiling merits particular scrutiny in the post-Sept. 11 era, given the new powers of search and detention being employed by government officials.

Vice Dean Barton H. Thompson Jr. said Alexander is one of the leading civil rights attorneys in the United States, even though she is relatively junior in her career. "She's somebody we've had our eye on for a number of years," he said.

Alexander's high-profile work has centered on discrimination in the criminal justice system. At the ACLU, she was involved with cases that she has labeled "driving while black" -- incidents where highway patrol officers are perceived to stop African Americans more frequently than drivers from other ethnic groups. Currently, Alexander is researching new ways to define "discriminatory intent" for organizations, since the standard definition was designed to apply to individuals.

Alexander's teaching credentials, which include classes taught at the Law School in 1995 and 1996 on civil procedure and federal litigation, also impressed school officials. Alexander's student evaluations were "superb," Thompson said. This all adds up to better real-world preparedness for Law School graduates, he added. "Clinical education is important because it is impossible to describe or duplicate in the classroom the complexity and messiness of law in the real world," he said. "Traditional classroom education will always be the center of our curriculum, but our students will be better prepared to be creative problem solvers when they leave the Law School if we have a strong clinical program."

Two years ago, the Law School decided to focus on strengthening its clinical courses with the aim of hiring four to five full-time teaching faculty. Last year, the school hired Associate Professor (Teaching) Bill Koski, who teaches a Youth and Education Law Clinic.

In addition to hiring more clinical faculty, the school plans in the next few months to establish a new community law clinic where students can work with staff attorneys to provide free legal services to poor residents of East Palo Alto and other neighboring communities. This will replace some of the services of the former East Palo Alto Community Law Project, whose board recently voted to close its doors.

The Law School currently offers four clinics. They include Criminal Prosecution, taught by Professor George Fisher and Margo Smith, an experienced prosecutor in the Santa Clara District Attorney's Office; Environmental Law, taught by lecturers Deborah Sivas and Michael Lozeau; Law and Technology, taught by lecturer Jennifer Granick and Professor Lawrence Lessig; and Youth and Education Law, taught by Koski.



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