Our Story, Our Service, Our Impact
Through innovative connections between law professors, law students, and community members, The Justice Center at Albany Law School promotes justice for marginalized communities, represents individuals who lack meaningful access to legal services, and professionally prepares law students for work that enriches their communities, the profession, and democracy.
The Justice Center provides free legal services to eligible clients in the Capital Region and beyond and has facilitated public-private partnerships to improve justice systems. In a typical academic year, The Justice Center recruits more than 200 students, representing hundreds of clients and assisting many more individuals and organizations through technical assistance and community education activities.
Our mission is to promote ethical and inclusive legal representation and justice lawyering while teaching students to practice with compassion and sensitivity to individual and community needs.
The Justice Center at Albany Law School combines theory and practice and acts as an in-house public interest law firm, providing free legal services to eligible clients in the Capital Region.
After the Attica Prison Riots in September 1971 led to the deaths of 20 prisoners and 10 prison officers, New York State issued the McKay Commission Report in September of 1972 that found, among other conclusions, “that incarcerated individuals needed a safety valve and a window to the outside, that is, a mechanism to air their grievances and a voice.” Students, faculty, and staff from the law school began to work on prisoner rights and organically form the organizational nucleus that evolved into The Justice Center that we know today.
According to “Albany Law School, 1851-2001, A History of Change,” a historical book celebrating the law school’s sesquicentennial, also in 1972, a group of about 100 students accompanied Albany police on patrols around the city, “to find out what textbooks don’t teach about criminal law.” The popularity of the event helped persuade school leaders to establish a permanent clinical program at Albany Law. Later that year an elective titled, “Clinical Legal Education,” was offered for the first time continuing to stoke the interest in creating the entity that grew into the Justice Center.
Then, in 1974, at the urging of and under the sponsorship of the late Justice J. Clarence Herlihy – then-Appellate Division, Third Department, Presiding Justice, who also called for the implementation of a prison grievance process and access to legal representation for prisoners to allow them to present their claims in court – the first formal clinic at Albany Law School was formed under the supervision of Professor Daniel Moriarty titled Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS).
While PLS eventually spun off into a standalone non-profit, the Justice Center continued to grow.
In 1975, the Legal Assistance Program/Clinical Legal Studies was established.
The Litigation Clinic was established in 1981 to represent clients on several kinds of cases, including divorce, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcies.
The Civil Rights and Disabilities Law Project, established in 1983, represented clients with disabilities challenging discrimination in employment, housing, education, and accessing related services in the least restrictive environments.
In 1987, the Field Placement Program was developed to place Albany Law student in the field. Today, over 150 in in-person and on-the-ground experience are available to students.
In 1989, the Disabilities Law Clinic received national attention for its work on an employment discrimination case of client with rare seizure disorder.
The AIDS Law Project was created in 1992 to serve clients with AIDS or HIV.
The Domestic Violence Clinic was founded in 1993 with two components: Postconviction Remedies Project and Family Violence Project. That clinic attracted national attention in 1997 when it won clemency for Charline Brundidge, the first time such relief was afforded in New York for an incarcerated battered woman who killed her abuser.
In 2000, after moving into its new home on the Albany Law School campus, the Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic was established and the Securities Arbitration Clinic, an Investors Rights program, began representing investors on securities arbitration matters before the National Association of Securities Dealers and the New York Stock Exchange. The Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic started to help taxpayers in disputes with the IRS. That year also saw, the AIDS Law Project expanded into the Health Law Clinic representing clients living with cancer and other chronic impairments.
In 2006, Sherry Gold’s $1 million donation in memory of her late husband, established the Barry A. Gold '70 Health Law Clinical Program Endowment Fund.
In 2007, the Family Violence Litigation Clinic was renamed and expanded.
The Immigration Law Clinic was founded in 2013 with assistance from New York State as students assisted in a massive legal response to asylum-seekers brought from the US-Mexico border to the Albany County Jail. Over 95% of detainees had a positive outcome thanks to the student work.
In 2015, the Pro Bono Scholars program was established and the the Community Economic Development Clinic was launched to assist individuals, community groups and small businesses, particularly in economically depressed areas of the Capital District.
In 2018, the then-named Law Clinic and Justice Center received the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce’s’ Non-Profit Organization of the Year award.
To kick off We Rise Together: The Campaign for Albany Law School an anonymous and transformative $15 million gift – one of the largest to any law school in the nation, ever – endowed and renamed The Justice Center at Albany Law School in 2019. The Campaign was the most successful in the history of the last school raising over $33 million over three years.
As of 2022, the Justice Center is comprised of:
- Community Economic Development Clinic
- Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic
- Family Violence Litigation Clinic
- Health Law Clinic
- Immigration Law Clinic
- Pro Bono Scholars Program
- Field Placement Program
The Edward P. Swyer Justice Center at Albany Law School
The Justice Center was officially renamed in honor of Ed Swyer '18H and his family on May 2, 2023 to the Edward P. Swyer Justice Center at Albany Law School.
New signage on Albany Law School’s 2000 Building and an official proclamation by the law school’s Board of Trustees was unveiled during a ceremony.
Ed Swyer, and the Swyer family, have been extraordinary loyal supporters of the law school for over three decades. Their gifts of time, philanthropy, and expertise – helped build and grow clinical programs within The Justice Center, specifically the Community and Economic Development Clinic. They generously created an endowment to support The Justice Center in perpetuity in 2019.
- 50,000+ Hours of Public Service and Pro Bono Work - The Justice Center provides legal assistance to nonprofits, small businesses, immigrants, survivors of domestic and family violence, overburdened problem-solving courts, special victim cases, senior citizens, and other underrepresented groups.
- 140+ Annual Field Placements in various areas of law practice including criminal defense or prosecution, public interest advocacy, government law, science & technology, or in judicial chambers.
- 50+ Students in the COVID Response Corps and working with the Legal Aid of Northeastern New York (LASNNY)—a nonprofit that provides legal services to those who cannot otherwise afford an attorney—to offer a helping hand as LASNNY manages its increased workload.
Change Agents and System Shapers
- In 2021, The Justice Center will prioritize work that addresses the effects of COVID and its disproportionate toll on BIPOC/ALANA community members. Because structural racism is embedded in nearly every legal system, from criminal justice reform to domestic violence, to housing, to health, the Justice Center will draw on the varied backgrounds and interest areas of our students to tackle issues arising in each impact area where racial disparities in legal outcomes exist.
- Because of our established and celebrated reputation as change agents in the community and thanks to our broad alumni and institutional network, we are able to leverage student work on individual cases to change the law itself.
- In addition to the immediate impact of the services The Justice Center provides, the community gains the benefit of the education those experiences provide for our students. Those students go on to serve our communities as skilled professionals who are well-versed in public interest work. Investments in the work we do now will pay off for generations.
- The Justice Center received the Capital Region Chamber’s 2018 Nonprofit Organization of the Year Award, recognizing organizations that have excelled in providing outstanding service outcomes, adapting to community needs, and collaborating with partners.
- Professors Nancy Maurer and Sarah Rogerson were awarded the 2020 William Pincus Award and 2019 M. Shanara Gilbert Award, respectively, by the American Association of Law Schools. The Pincus Award recognizes outstanding contributions as reflected in scholarship, service program design, and implementation. The Gilbert Award recognizes a commitment to teaching and achieving social justice and providing legal services and access to justice to those most in need.