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Bolstering Clinical Legal Studies

November 30, 2023

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The Gittis Legal Clinics welcomed two new clinical faculty and a full-time social worker, expanding our clinics’ cross-disciplinary capacity.

A leader in legal education, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School incorporates rich experiential learning opportunities into its rigorous curriculum.

This year, the Gittis Legal Clinics, Penn Carey Law’s teaching law firm, welcomed two new clinical faculty, Peter Robau, Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer for the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic (ELC), and Alia Al-Khatib, Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer for the Civil Practice Clinic (CPC).

Moreover, the Gittis Legal Clinics expanded their cross-disciplinary capacity with the addition of Jennifer Bulcock, Social Work Supervisor, who will work closely with clinical colleagues and both law students and graduate social work students in the ARC Justice Clinic, Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic, Transnational Legal Clinic, and Civil Practice Clinic.

“We’re very excited to welcome our new clinical faculty and staff,” said Praveen Kosuri, Deputy Dean for Clinical Education, Practice Professor of Law, and Director of the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic.

“Peter has tremendous experience as a transactional lawyer, and his thoughtful approach with students makes him a great teacher and mentor. Alia’s experience as fierce litigator and a former student of clinical legal studies makes her especially equipped to be a great clinical supervisor. As an educator and college counselor, Jenn is the perfect person to introduce law students to the importance of social work in so many aspects of legal practice.”

Developing Essential Lawyering Skills

Like all Penn Carey Law clinics, the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic and Civil Practice Clinic are designed to prepare students for success in a complex legal world, regardless of career path or legal specialty. As clinical faculty, Al-Khatib and Robau engage student lawyers during weekly supervision meetings and help students navigate practical and ethical considerations in their cases.

The longest running legal clinic at Penn Carey Law, the CPC puts students on the frontlines of litigating real civil cases and representing indigent clients in state and federal court.

Alia Al-Khatib, Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer for the Civil Practice Clinic Alia Al-Khatib, Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer for the Civil Practice Clinic“The Civil Practice Clinic is unique compared to traditional law school courses because clinic students serve as the lead attorneys in civil cases and represent real clients with pressing legal needs. The hands-on experience is incomparable,” Al-Khatib said.

“My own clinical experience in law school shaped my work as a public interest attorney. My practice was guided by important principles I learned in clinic, including engaging in client-centered and collaborative representation and thoughtfully advocating on behalf of marginalized groups.”

With a background in civil rights and employment law, Al-Khatib’s experience advances the CPC’s mission to increase access to justice by providing pro bono representation to low-income clients. As a Senior Associate with Katz Banks Kumin, Al-Khatib represented individuals facing employment discrimination or whistleblower retaliation. She represented clients testifying before congressional committees about urgent issues ranging from national pandemic preparedness to workplace sexual harassment. Al-Khatib also held a staff attorney position at Justice at Work in Pennsylvania, where she litigated wage theft and employment discrimination cases, and is a former law fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Established in 1981 with the Wharton School, the ELC provides pro bono transactional legal services to entrepreneurs and businesses based in the Philadelphia area, with a special focus on serving social-impact startups and BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and woman-owned businesses. ELC clients this semester included a filmmaker, restauranteur, life science innovator, environmental tech company, other high-growth technology startups, and nonprofit organizations.

Peter Robau, Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer for the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic Peter Robau, Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer for the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic“The ELC offers a window into the diversity and breadth of businesses in the Philadelphia area,” Robau said. “My hope is that, through this experience, students will develop a heightened awareness of the role lawyers play in empowering their clients and an appreciation for the impact legal services can have on an individual or a community.”

Aayushi Shah L’24, who enrolled in the ELC to gain practical skills and experience in transactional law, reflected on how powerful it was to help her client achieve his goals as an entrepreneur.

“I want to work with startups and small businesses after law school,” she said, “and the ELC gave me the confidence and skills I need to be able to do that. It was also an amazing experience to be able to help a local entrepreneur grow his fashion brand by counseling him through the trademark process.”

Before joining Penn Carey Law’s clinical faculty, Robau was a fellow at NYU’s Pollack Center for Law & Business, where he researched issues concerning the enforcement of the federal securities laws and coordinated projects with the Center’s database of securities enforcement, the Securities Empirical Enforcement Database (SEED). Robau also was an associate at both Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP and currently maintains a pro bono practice advising small businesses and nonprofits.

Collaborations Between Lawyers and Social Workers

While the Gittis Legal Clinics have always incorporated a cross-disciplinary approach to hands-on legal education, Penn Carey Law’s teaching law firm is expanding its interdisciplinary practice by integrating social workers into four clinics. This expansion affords students the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with experts in other disciplines related to the law.

Jennifer Bulcock, Social Work Supervisor Jennifer Bulcock, Social Work Supervisor“The law touches everything but the solutions to problems are not always rooted in the law,” Kosuri said. “Social work highlights the human dimension to the practice of law. We are helping people navigate and solve real problems in their lives.”

Bulcock will supervise social work students from Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice embedded in the clinics. She also supports clinic clients and works closely with clinic directors to develop and teach curricula focused on trauma-informed lawyering and client well-being.

“Most of populations served by the litigation clinics are dealing with some type of trauma related to their case—immigration trauma, being in the child welfare system, or eviction,” she said. “So, we teach our students trauma-informed approaches to lawyering. This kind of cross-disciplinary curriculum helps students expand how they think about and could begin to address their clients’ needs; it also improves how they work with clients and strengthens their ability to be flexible and creative in their legal work.”

In addition to collaborating with students during their weekly case rounds, Bulcock collaborates with law students navigating a wide range of issues with their clients, from communication challenges and working with interpreters to sociocultural issues that may affect the student-counsel’s relationship with their client.

Bulcock’s unique background includes working as a mental health professional, college educator, and advocate for those impacted by the U.S. criminal justice system and immigration law. A licensed social worker in the state of Pennsylvania, she has experience as a mobile crisis worker, a reentry caseworker for men incarcerated in the Philadelphia jails, and a therapist at a college counseling center.

She also spent six years as a philosophy professor at Cabrini University and concurrently served as the Assistant Director for the Center in Immigration and taught the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Montgomery County Correctional Facility.

Explore Penn Carey Law’s in-house legal clinics.