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New Clinical Professor Represents Refugee Communities

June 7, 2012 | Faculty

From Muslim to Arab and South Asian groups, to New York and that “state up north,” Amna Akbar has put her lawyering skills to use in many communities. And this fall she’ll be bringing them to students at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law as a visiting clinical professor of law.

After providing legal services to immigrant battered women and then representing men held by the United States in the extraordinary rendition and secret detention program, Akbar saw U.S. national security policies were encroaching on the rights of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities not just abroad, but at home as well. It was then that Akbar decided to combine her commitment in community legal services with her interest in critically examining national security policies.

In joining the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) project of the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law in the fall of 2011, Akbar set out to help support those communities whose rights were being encroached upon.

The CLEAR project was established in 2009 by CUNY students and faculty to address needs that weren’t being addressed by other legal service providers or civil rights groups. According to Akbar, raids on local Afghan communities underlined how law enforcement officials target Muslim communities for indiscriminate questioning and searches.

Muslim community members needed a greater awareness for their legal rights and access to legal services to protect those rights, Akbar said.

As a supervising attorney and adjunct professor for the project, Akbar helped her students to take the lead in the innovative community lawyering project that combines legal services, support for community organizing initiatives, and rights awareness work. She said she hopes students at Ohio State will take away similar lessons as the students involved in the CLEAR project.

“I hope the students will take from the clinic critical thinking and reflective lawyering skills, grounded in clients’ realities,” Akbar said. “In clinic, students will learn how to meet with a client, listen to her talk about her dilemma, and then to think creatively and collaboratively about how to best use their lawyering skills to help the client achieve her goal.”

Akbar will begin her appointment in the fall by teaching in the Civil Clinic at Moritz. She said she is committed to community-based lawyering projects, such as the CLEAR project.

“Community lawyering projects give students a rich context in which to learn what it means to be an attorney, the opportunities, privileges, and limitations to our role,” she said. Her scholarship focuses on national security, criminal law, and rights discourses. “I’m excited to join the fantastic clinical program and faculty at Moritz.”

A graduate of University of Michigan, the alumnus of the “state up North” does not hold any ill will toward Buckeye Nation.

“For most of my life I’ve been fairly agnostic about sports,” Akbar said, laughing. “I have never watched a University of Michigan football game, so I’m starting with a clean slate,” she promised. “I can’t wait to attend my first college game ever — as a Buckeye.”

After law school graduation, Akbar clerked for Gerard E. Lynch, now on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, when he served as a district court judge in the Southern District of New York.

Akbar said she enjoys cooking, biking, attending music and dance performances, and going to art galleries in her spare time.

“I am excited to explore what I’ve heard is a fantastic gallery scene in Columbus,” Akbar said. “And I’m looking forward to getting to know the students and faculty, and the local communities in Columbus in need of legal services that our clinic can provide.”