Clinic: Disability Rights
- Semester: Spring 2023
- Course ID: 497C
- Credit Hours: 4
- Course Type: Clinic
- Grading Method: Pass/Fail Mandatory
- Experiential Credit: 4 credit hours
- Upperclass-only elective
|WED||9:10 - 11:15 am||JON 6.257|
Students in the Disability Rights Clinic represent clients with with many different kinds of disabilities in a variety of legal contexts. In the fall semester of 2022, students will represent low-income parents of children with disabilities to order to improve the special education services received by these children within the Texas public schools. Families needing legal services will be identified primarily through a medical-legal partnership between the Disability Rights Clinic and Dell Children’s Medical Group developed to serve under-resourced rural communities in and around Central Texas. Law students will gain hands-on experience in working directly with parent clients to understand the educational needs of each child and to formulate a case strategy for putting services into place. In the past, students have worked on cases in which educators have physically abused or neglected children with disabilities, refused to serve in special education children with autism or other neuro-developmental disabilities, put into alternative education settings kids whose conduct was driven by disability-related need, and failed to provide nursing and other critical related services necessary for inclusion in school. The basics of federal and state special education law will be taught primarily through the assessment of school districts’ potential liability. Students will also practice the skills involved in building trust with their client families, empowering parents to push for appropriate services at interdisciplinary team meetings with district personnel, negotiating informally with school district counsel, and where necessary litigating and/or formally mediating special education matters. The Clinic emphasizes creativity, problem-solving, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the art of making the law accessible to nonlawyer parents. Graduates of Texas Law participating in these matters have later worked as lawyers in nonprofit settings representing persons with disability or their families, in larger law firms supporting special education work as a pro bono focus, in mid-size firm practice representing school districts, in juvenile and criminal defense work involving special education issues, and in governmental entities requiring expertise in education or disability law.
The Disability Rights Clinic meets once per week for two hours. Grading is on a pass/fail basis for this four-credit hour clinic. There is no final exam or paper. Students should expect to spend 10-15 hours per week on clinic work, including class time. Students will occasionally travel to meetings in small-town Texas, where feasible. Students are encouraged to apply for the Clinic early as enrollment is limited and faculty permission is required to register. Students should submit an electronic application, available at https://law.utexas.edu/clinics/application-information/, by the end of the application window. For more information, contact Professor Lucy Wood at email@example.com or at (512) 626-2060.
- Taught by Professor Lucy Wood
- 4 credits (pass/fail) — offered Fall
- The clinic is open to students who have completed their first two semesters.
FAQs for prospective students:
What type of cases are handled in this Clinic?
Students have in the past worked on cases in which educators have physically abused or neglected children with disabilities, refused to serve in special education children with autism or other neuro-developmental disabilities, put into alternative education settings kids whose conduct was driven by disability-related need, and failed to provide nursing and other critical related services necessary for inclusion in school. Many of our cases have involved kids whose behavior has become challenging because of the lack of appropriate services, and many have involved working with experts to develop behavioral interventions and services that improve a child’s circumstances and trajectory.
What am I going to be doing?
Parents may be overwhelmed with the unmet education needs of their children and often experience feelings of helplessness, shame, anger, or fatigue in trying to help their children. You will learn how to listen to your client(s), to support them in what is likely to be near the beginning of a life-long experience in advocacy, to teach them about what the law does and does not require, and to help them carefully frame their requests for critical services. You may interact with doctors and others to support these requests. Some children and their parents will need you to interact with prosecutors. Other cases will involve your negotiating primarily with a lawyer from a school law firm, informally or at mediation. You will likely drive to meet your client family and child, and your building trust with the family will be of the utmost importance to your success in bringing about change for them.
What kind of legal skills can I hope to build?
You will actively work on your abilities to review records quickly, to analyze the strength of a case and value it in terms of potential relief, to draw information out of your client patiently and efficiently, and to communicate well across disciplines with psychologists, therapists, and others. You will learn to prepare for interdisciplinary team meetings and to communicate informally about the needs of your client, to persuade others to adopt your proposals for the child, and to collaborate with a room full of people whose interests will often diverge from your client’s and those of the child. The dynamics of the meetings are complex and will help you to explore your own approach, style, and voice as a soon-to-be lawyer. Litigation is kept to a minimum in this clinic, although you may be asked to draft a complaint for filing in those cases where the issues cannot be resolved through creative and collaborative work, and many of the skills you will work on are litigation skills.
What is the class like?
Readings on substantive law and exercises targeting specific skills will be posted weekly on Canvas and used in class. Students will discuss their cases with other clinic students (“case rounds”) and there are scheduled guest speakers.