Changemakers in action

Legislation and Policy Clinic prepares students to innovate in the justice sphere

Kaitlyn Edicola (JD ’22) experienced a surreal moment shortly into her tenure as a policy associate in the Office of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. She was assigned to the Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare Task Force, which focuses on the overrepresentation of Black children in the foster system and juvenile legal system in Illinois. As part of her onboarding, Edicola was provided with introductory materials, including one-pagers and a flow chart distilling some of the complexities of the child welfare system.

The materials were quite recognizable to Edicola—she had helped prepare them as a 3L in Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Legislation and Policy Clinic

Offered as a weekly seminar plus an intensive group project, the Legislation and Policy Clinic is a hands-on opportunity for students to learn about and participate in development, analysis, advocacy, and implementation of policy and legislation. 

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“It’s going much further than just learning what a law entails,” says Anita Weinberg, the Clinic’s director. “We ask students to think critically about whether a law is even effective or right, and we look at the larger systems in play.”

Weinberg, who also serves as co-director of the Civitas ChildLaw Center and as the Curt and Linda Rodin Clinical Professor of Law and Social Justice, launched the Clinic in 2010. She oversees students as they participate in advocacy initiatives, ascertain the impact and limitations of legislation, get to know the political realities of the legislative process, and hone their research, writing, and presentation skills. Many Clinic alumni go on to work in the highest levels of government, including state legislatures and Congress.

The vast majority of law schools do not have legislation/policy clinics. A recent report from the Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education found that only 16 percent of 186 accredited law schools offer this type of experiential learning.

So why Loyola? Weinberg points to the School of Law’s social justice mission as a key reason for the Clinic’s national leadership on this front. 

“It’s one more way of making a difference,” Weinberg says.

Partners in social justice

In February, Bloomberg Law cited the Legislation and Policy Clinic as a top-scoring law school program that exemplifies innovation in the justice sphere. Bloomberg commended the Clinic’s commitment to providing opportunities for students to “achieve social justice for clients by understanding the legislative process and often spearheading policy.”

Those opportunities include team projects, which comprise the bulk of the students’ time commitment in the Clinic. Students choose from a selection of real-world projects, many of which relate to child welfare. Over the years, many coalitions, human service agencies, nonprofits, and government entities have requested the Clinic’s services.

“You’ve got to learn how to connect, how to interact, how to disagree, and how to come to conclusions,” Weinberg says. “And so that’s part of what we hope the students learn through this team project model.”

“We did a lot of research … and translated the intent of the coalition into a draft statute.”

When Scott Hulver (JD ’22) participated in the Clinic for two semesters, they worked with two other students to research and draft legislation to change the standards of competency for children in criminal procedures. Currently, youth are held to the same standards of competency as adults.

“We met with a coalition of people who had backgrounds in mental health, children’s advocacy and psychology, as well as a prosecutor and a public defender,” Hulver says. “I thought of our role as being legal counsel for the coalition. We did a lot of research to understand what the options are and what other states have done, and then we translated the intent of the coalition into a draft statute.”

The bill is currently pending in the state legislature.

“It’s rewarding and exciting to know that all of the work the coalition put in to improve children’s lives was able to turn into something fruitful,” Hulver says. “Hopefully [the bill] will pass!”

Hulver credits the Clinic with helping secure their current position as a policy analyst for program on Medicare policy at KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation). On a daily basis, Hulver draws on skills they honed in the Clinic, including how to read statutes, project management, coordinating with different stakeholders, and thinking in a precise, detail-oriented way.

“I learned so much from Professor Weinberg,” Hulver says. “It really felt like a partnership with her. She truly cares about the students and the work, and she’s always open to learning, which I think is fantastic for someone who is so knowledgeable already.”

Putting people first

Niya Kelly (JD ’13) sees a direct line between the Clinic and her achievements as director of state legislative policy, transformation, and equity at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). As an example, Kelly recalls a presentation she gave to a legislator on retaliatory evictions. When Kelly launched into her slides, the legislator expressed surprise at the depth of her research.

“I was raised to do this work by Anita Weinberg,” Kelly says with a laugh. “I don’t come into a situation without having done the research.”

During her time in the Clinic, Kelly worked closely with a group of young people who served on the Statewide Youth Advisory Board to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Over the years, the Clinic has collaborated with the Board on several pieces of legislation. Kelly’s project focused on ensuring foster youth can stay in contact with their siblings even if they are placed in different homes.

“This is the Clinic for people who are changemakers—who see systems and want to find ways to improve them.”

“You cannot do this work in a silo where the people who are impacted by it don’t even know it’s happening,” Kelly says. She takes this to heart with each initiative and policy she pursues at CCH—and she shares this philosophy when she returns to the Clinic as a guest lecturer (Kelly is also an adjunct professor at the School of Law).

“If you value collaboration, if you value the voices of people who aren’t necessarily formally educated but have so much wisdom and knowledge they can bestow upon you, this is the Clinic for you,” Kelly says. “This is the Clinic for people who are changemakers—who see systems and want to find ways to improve them.”

Ready for the real world

Edicola, the policy associate, brought experience in effective communication and collaboration—sharpened through the Clinic—when she joined the Governor’s Office. This past legislative session, she applied those skills while working on the Illinois Grocery Initiative, which helps combat food deserts by providing grants and tax credits to independent grocery stores. 

“I started from the ground up, talking to grocery store owners across the state about their issues, what they were experiencing, what would help them,” Edicola says. “And then I assisted with drafting the bill, running it, and working on the legislative strategy to get members from both parties to vote for it. I’m very proud to say it passed the Senate unanimously.”

“This work is real. It’s not hypothetical.”

While Edicola works in legislation and policy, she asserts that any law student can benefit from the Clinic. “Even if you don’t necessarily want to go into political or legislative work, but you think it might be interesting, you should do it,” she says. “You’re going to learn invaluable skills that will help you in whatever field you decide to go in after law school.” 

As for Edicola, she stepped into her career feeling confident in her abilities thanks to two semesters with the Clinic, including a project centered on educating youth in the foster system about their rights. “This work is real,” she says. “It’s not hypothetical. It matters, and it makes a difference.” –Kelsey Schagemann (November 2023)

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Legislation and Policy Clinic

Under the supervision of Clinic faculty, students study the legislative process and participate in policy and legislative development, analysis, advocacy, and implementation.

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Civitas ChildLaw Center

Loyola’s internationally recognized Civitas ChildLaw Center balances classroom learning with a wide range of hands-on experiential opportunities.

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