Seizing the Moment and Supporting the Movement: Defund the Police & Feminist Theory and Practice

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Publication Date


Conference / Event Title

Association of American Law Schools (AALS) 2021 Conference on Clinical Legal Education: Reckoning with our Past and Building for the Future


Across the country we saw thousands of individuals take to the streets this summer to march with and for the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite a national pandemic, many risked their lives with their community by their side to mourn the Black lives we’ve lost but also to show resilience and a deep desire for fundamental transformation of the policing function and the carceral state. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were just the latest flashpoints in the over two-hundred-year history of police violence targeting Black and brown people.

Structural racism is deeply foundational and no one approach can excavate and unearth it in its entirety, but the speakers suggest ways to interrupt current police practices that proliferate racism and injustice. The question this panel poses to the audience is: how can law schools seize the moment and work hand-in-hand to support the efforts of our Black communities? How do race and gender intersect in this moment? This panel includes a diverse array of legal educators who share their varied yet complementary work responding to the policing crisis and the recently reinvigorated demands for racial justice.

Through the lens of intersectional racial justice, this panel hopes to engage attendees in a dynamic conversation that discusses multiple strategies for change. For example, panelists will discuss the need to be conscious of existing narratives within the law and how those narratives have shaped society's view of, or willingness to, examine the tensions between abolition and reform. Panelists will also discuss the pros and cons of policy and litigation approaches, strategies for introducing students to movement lawyering and an intersectional analysis to the legal and public policy issues related to the criminal legal system.


This year’s conference theme is Reckoning With our Past and Building for the Future. As experiential legal educators who teach in-house clinics and externship courses, we find ourselves in unprecedented times, reacting to stressful external conditions while also coming to terms with practices that have perpetuated inequality and injustice. This conference engages with this new reality, while also seeking to shift our collective gaze inward, to focus on ways we can strengthen ourselves and our community of educators, in order to respond effectively to today’s challenges.

Consistent with core clinical habits of introspection and reflection, we will examine ways to reimagine the foundations of our professional work, including our collaborative relationships, instructional approaches, and forms of community engagement. We will also explore ways to fortify ourselves as individuals, with specific attention to wellness and professional growth. Finally, during this transformative moment in society, we will critically assess our assumptions and long-standing practices, with an eye towards advancing antiracism and inclusiveness.

Conference Subthemes

  1. Collaboration. Collaboration is key to our individual and collective sustainability, particularly in the challenging external environment in which we find ourselves. What are effective models for collaboration across clinics, subject matter areas, and disciplines? How can we promote collaboration and linkages across different types of experiential teaching (e.g., in-house clinics, externships, practica, and simulation courses)? What types of collaborations are needed for our clinical work, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and movements for racial justice? What other types of collaboration might the future require, and how can we begin cultivating those partnerships?
  2. Foundational and Emerging Lawyering Skills. As clinicians, instruction on lawyering skills is central to our pedagogical project. Moments of introspection and reflection permit us to examine our past practices in this area. How can we enhance our pedagogy vis-a-vis core lawyering skills, such as interviewing, client counseling, case theory development, trial advocacy, and negotiation? As we confront a new reality and look to the future, what emerging lawyering skills should we be integrating into our curricula, and how should we teach those skills? How does the shift towards remote instruction and adjudication, and the ubiquity of technology, shape our pedagogy around foundational and emerging lawyering skills?
  3. Mindfulness, Self-Care, and Resilience. Given the unprecedented stressors that we face in our professional lives and in society at large, wellness is a top priority. What are we teaching our students about self-care and mindfulness, and how are incorporating these topics into our courses? What practices should we as clinicians adopt to keep ourselves strong, focused, and intentional in our work? As we continue to navigate an uncertain future, how do we develop the quality of resilience — both in ourselves and in our students?
  4. Professional Development. The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic downturn have created an uncertain future for law schools and legal educators. Moreover, the need to respond to an ever-changing environment leaves little time for contemplating and furthering our professional growth. What are best practices for clinicians at different stages in their careers (e.g., fellows, pre-tenure, mid-career, approaching retirement), given the unique times we are living in? What guidance and support can we provide for clinicians who are fighting for more equal status within their institutions? Given law schools’ focus on experiential education, bar passage, and job placement, how can we leverage our strengths as clinicians? What challenges and opportunities does the current environment present for the professional advancement of clinicians?
  5. Clinics and the Community. Community engagement and the advancement of social justice are often central to our work as clinical legal educators. In the current social and political moment, many clinicians are deepening their community-based work. As we take this moment to reflect, what are some critiques of existing models of community engagement? How do we ensure that our approaches are sustainable? How do we balance responsiveness to pressing community concerns with the need for stability in our teaching? As we look towards an uncertain future, what models of community-based work should we embrace?
  6. Critically Examining Our Past. This transformational moment offers an opportunity for individual clinicians, and for the clinical community as a whole, to critically examine our past practices, including assumptions about our work as well as the structures in which we operate. This process of self-examination also includes introspection about biases embedded in our work and the steps needed to promote antiracism and inclusiveness. What aspects of our community and its work deserve more careful examination and critique? How can we remedy existing deficiencies and reimagine the role and contributions of clinical legal educators?