Students in the Youth Opportunity Clinic represent teenagers and young adults from age 16 to 25 who are at risk for criminal legal involvement. Students’ civil legal advocacy helps clients access opportunities and achieve stability in the areas of education, housing, and employment. Students learn about the school-to-prison pipeline and the collateral effects of the criminalization of youth, while developing client-centered advocacy skills.
The Clinic will represent clients in proceedings such as school disciplinary hearings, public housing evictions, and record expungement. Students are responsible, under the supervision of the clinic faculty member, for client interviewing, client counseling, representation of clients in administrative proceedings and in court, and through written and oral advocacy. Students also develop community education materials and engage in efforts to promote policies that support young people’s efforts to achieve in school, to access and maintain secure housing, and to become self-sufficient.
Clinic opened up a new potential career path for me. Because “public interest law” is such a broad and amorphous umbrella, it’s hard to know what exactly a “public interest lawyer’s” day-to-day life looks like. The reentry work I did in the Youth Opportunity Clinic offered me a glimpse into a subset of public-interest work I had not known much about but that I now see as a viable way to use my law degree to support my community.
Effort grew from students’ clinic work helping young adult clients navigate the collateral consequences related to fees and fines that stem from delinquency or criminal cases, such as the ability to get a driver’s license.
The Clinic and attorneys at the Youth Law Center are working together to help young adults in Tennessee who have aged out of foster care apply for pandemic relief and to share information about how to help eligible recipients access pandemic relief funding with service providers, advocates and young adults.
The Clinic joined with nearly 40 other criminal justice advocacy groups in Tennessee to submit a legal petition to the state Supreme Court to release people from jails and prisons during the coronavirus outbreak.
Associate Clinical Professor of Law
Cara Suvall teaches the Youth Opportunity Clinic. Professor Suvall began her legal career as a staff attorney at The Bronx Defenders, where she represented more than 700 clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies through all phases of their criminal cases. After receiving a Fellowship from the Initiative for Public Interest Law at Yale, Suvall created a pilot program representing young clients in school discipline and other education matters in addition to their criminal cases. Suvall then co-founded The Bronx Defenders’ Adolescent Defense Project to provide holistic, individualized representation to clients aged 14 to 17 who are charged in adult criminal proceedings.
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