Published August 17, 2016
Nicole Hallett was talking to someone in Buffalo about the needs of the city’s immigrant population. Hallett asked about wage theft — when an employer cheats low-wage workers out of their fair pay by requiring them to work off the clock or failing to pay overtime.
“He said he wasn’t sure that wage theft was a problem in Buffalo,” Hallett recounts. “Which would be very strange because something like 70 percent of immigrants across the country are victims of wage theft.”
It’s issues like this, so often flying under the radar of public awareness, that will come into play in the Community Justice Clinic that Hallett will establish this fall at the UB School of Law. The clinic will reach out to low-income and immigrant communities in Western New York, seeking to identify cases in the areas of workers’ rights, consumer rights, immigration and civil rights.
“It’s really grounded in the needs of underserved communities,” Hallett says. “We’ll work with community organizations to identify these issues and we’ll take on cases that come out of those conversations.”
Students will work on cases under Hallett’s supervision. It’s an experiential educational model that is gaining in importance at UB and other law schools as educators press to give students the tools they’ll need to succeed in the legal profession. “The idea,” she says, “is that at the end of the year, students have the practical skills they need to be practicing lawyers.”
In a sexual harassment case, for example, “students would work up the case and file a complaint in federal court, and they would see that lawsuit from beginning to trial or settlement. That involves interviewing clients, drafting a complaint, discovery, taking depositions, oral arguments, motion practice. The idea is that students are handling the case in a particular subject area but gaining skills in federal litigation that they can apply to many different areas of law, depending on what they do after graduation,” she explains.
The Community Justice Clinic will build on Hallett’s experience at Yale Law School, where she co-taught the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic.
A graduate of Yale Law School herself, Hallett also previously taught in the Community Development and Economic Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law. Her undergraduate work was at DePauw University, where she studied philosophy and English literature, and she also earned a master’s degree in refugee studies from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
In addition to her teaching, she has written about labor organizing, human trafficking and topics in international human rights, and she intends to continue her scholarship in Buffalo. “I have found that I am a more creative lawyer and a more creative teacher if I keep my head in scholarship,” she says. “Trying to brainstorm policy solutions to some of these problems gives me a broader perspective that is hard to get through litigation alone.”
Hallett’s teaching stems from an early interest in immigration and international migration, what she calls “one of the great human rights issues of the 21st century. I see how these global forces are manifesting in people’s lives in the communities I live in. I came at this work from an international perspective, but I have really grounded my work in local issues.”
These human-scale issues manifest themselves through the immigration system, but also in every facet of immigrants’ lives. In Hallett’s clinic, students will learn about these global forces, while tackling issues for individual clients that will get students into court.
“There’s a lot of need in Buffalo and a lot of opportunity for legal work that really changes conditions for people living and working there,” Hallett says. “There aren’t very many lawyers now who are working on these issues. I’m very excited to come and fulfill that role and expose the students to a different facet of their community.”
Hallett comes to Buffalo from New Haven, Conn., with her husband, fellow UB Law clinician Jonathan Manes, and their 3-year-old son, Ezra.