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Educating Civil Rights Advocates

April 26, 2022

Cara McClellan GEd’12 will lead the Law School’s newest clinic, focusing on civil rights and racial justice equity.

This fall, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School will welcome Cara McClellan GEd’12 as the founding Director and Practice Associate Professor of the Advocacy for Racial and Civil (ARC) Justice Clinic, the Law School’s newest in-house clinic, which will provide students with hands-on experience working in civil rights litigation and policy advocacy around systemic racism. The ARC Justice Clinic is inspired in part by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“During this critical time in our country’s history, I believe it is essential to provide law students with both the knowledge and training to engage with pressing racial justice issues,” McClellan said. “As an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, I have had the privilege of working with some of the nation’s most prominent and expert civil rights attorneys. I am honored to join the distinguished faculty at Penn Carey Law and to continue the work of fighting for racial equity in my hometown of Philadelphia.”

The ARC Justice Clinic will be the newest addition to the Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies’ range of experiential learning opportunities. In the ARC Justice Clinic, students will work on contemporary federal civil rights litigation and advocate for the protection and advancement of crucial civil rights on a national scale.

“Cara’s clinic will be the first at Penn to focus on complex litigation in federal court,” said Praveen Kosuri, Deputy Dean for Clinical Education, Practice Professor of Law, and Director Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic. “It’s an experience that our students are craving in both substance and practice — the ability to effect change through impact cases and learn lawyering competencies that will be reflective of the careers they’ll pursue after graduation and last them years into practice.”

McClellan is joining the Law School from her position as Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., where her work focused on increasing education equity and ending the criminalization of Black people. She gained litigation experience as the lead counsel on several cases, including I.S. et al. v. Binghamton School District, a case challenging a school’s discriminatory strip search of four Black and Latina middle school girls. McClellan has also represented students and families in school desegregation cases, such as Sheff v. O’Neill, and students and alumni as amici in SFFA v. Harvard, defending Harvard’s affirmative action admissions policy.

The Law School is incredibly excited to welcome Cara, whose work demonstrates an ardent commitment to the advancement of civil rights,” said Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger. “In many ways, the ARC Justice Clinic is directly responsive to the Law School’s desire for more diverse courses and our steadfast ambition to increase our impact in the fight for racial equity in our communities.”

A Philadelphia native, McClellan graduated from Central High School and spent two years teaching middle school in Philadelphia with Teach for America. She has also worked on several cases advocating for civil rights in the Philadelphia region, including Holbrook v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which challenged prison-based gerrymandering, and Smith v. City of Philadelphia, challenging the Philadelphia Police Department’s indiscriminate use of military-style weapons against protesters, residents, and bystanders in a predominately Black West Philadelphia community.

McClellan earned her undergraduate degree from Yale and an MSEd from Penn’s Graduate School of Education. She returned to Yale to earn a JD, serving both as an editor of the Yale Law & Policy Review and as the President of the Black Law Students Association. Following law school, she clerked for the Honorable Gregory M. Sleet, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court and the Honorable Andre M. Davis, Senior Judge for the Fourth Circuit.

“We are very excited to add Cara McClellan to our faculty and to add the first new clinic at Penn Law in a decade,” said Kosuri. “Cara is ideally suited to lead this new clinic focused on civil rights and racial equity. She has been committed to civil rights work her entire career going back to when she was a law student and is coupling that commitment with her experience as a teacher and mentor to law students.”

Learn more about the Law School’s clinics.