Training New Lawyers to Recognize and Confront Structural Violence

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By Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum, Associate Professor of Clinical Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Director of the Benjamin B. Ferencz Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention Clinic and the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR).

As we mark the anniversary of the wave of racial justice protests that swept the country in 2020 and Juneteenth, legal educators are working to respond to the urgent call to teach students more about race and racism.

At the same time, students are demanding course material that confronts issues of structural and identity-based discrimination. Many professors want to meet these demands but lack concrete tools to innovate their classroom discussions.

The Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR) has created a downloadable Teaching Guide on Reparations, a flexible (free) resource that can be adapted for introductory courses or upper-level seminars, class discussions, exam materials, and more. It helps students understand what reparations are, how a tort claim could possibly redress the harms of slavery, how these claims have fared in court, and other paths Black Americans can use to achieve redress for atrocities suffered.

This module joins 10 others in the Confronting Structural Violence: Law Teaching Guides project, which includes Guides covering constitutional law, international law, criminal law, corporations, and IP.

The Guides add the most recent case law—such as the travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii—or legal reform post-SCOTUS decision-making—such as state voter ID laws after Shelby County v. Holder—for law professors to update existing syllabi and lesson plans and motivate learning the law through current events. The guides take many of the seminal cases that law professors teach but interrogate them in new ways. This helps bring to the forefront the ways in which the law can perpetuate identity-based discrimination and violence against certain individuals and groups from historical cases to the present.

The legal profession is self-regulating. Thus, legal educators have a special responsibility to prepare lawyers to be attentive to unwitting or even deliberate complicity in acts of discrimination and violence. Law schools and bar associations that provide legal education are well-placed to discuss the nature of implicit bias, as well as to identify and unpack structures and patterns of dehumanization. Legal educators are in a unique position to impart skills and encourage confidence in future legal professionals to confront injustices, discrimination, and violence against individuals and groups across the United States.

To download the Guides and for more information about the project, visit:

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning