Florida’s 12 law schools have joined forces to launch a new initiative focused on racial justice—one of several ways law schools are reacting to the George Floyd protests and ongoing racial inequality.
The new Florida Law Schools’ Consortium for Racial Justice will assist existing local groups that are focused on policy reform and racial justice in the state. Each participating law school each year will designate at least one law student fellow to work with the consortium, and the fellows will help partner organizations with legal research, strategic advocacy, and other law-related tasks.
“Supreme Court Justice and civil rights legend Thurgood Marshall once said, ‘Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on. You are ready. Go to it,’” said Stetson University College of Law Dean Michèle Alexandre in an announcement of the consortium. “This advice is timeless. For law schools, lawyers and law students, it is a moral imperative.”
Alexandre said in an interview Monday that the idea to work collectively across Florida’s law schools came out of early conversations with University of Florida Law Dean Laura Rosenbury. Each school was already working on these issues in some form, but they saw potential for more collaboration and bigger results.
“We realized that the various issues our schools are working on through various partners could be amplified through collective effort,” Alexandre said. “The collective power of having us do this work in a focused way with a clear agenda and outcome setting we know will yield exponential benefits, as opposed to doing it alone.”
The dozen law schools in Florida already have partnerships with a variety of community foundations, nonprofit groups, law firms, businesses, policy centers, art collectives, advocacy groups, educational entities and bar associations that the consortium fellows will assist. The newly formed group is also looking for additional partner organizations. The law school deans envision student fellows tackling issues ranging from disparate criminal sentencing based on race and equal funding across public school districts to the school-to-prison pipeline and helping Black-owned business secure loans and state contracts.
The consortium’s work will begin with a joint forum examining how lawyers can advance social justice. From there, the law schools and partner organizations will collectively identify three of four specific projects on which the first cohort of consortium fellows will focus. The consortium will also work with scholars to develop research on Jim Crow laws in Florida and the modern vestiges of those laws.
Another aim of the consortium is to impress upon law students that lawyers have an obligation to advance social justice and fight inequality. Law schools play a key role in training lawyers to confront injustice, according to the deans behind the new consortium.
“The consortium will be an alliance in support of existing organizations, signaling that law schools are committed to joining the cause,” Rosenbury said in the announcement of the consortium. “The initiatives will also make our students stronger, and less myopic, lawyers.”