Emma Hoffman Harnesses the Legal System for Change as a TCRP Law Clerk
Growing up, I never planned on attending law school. As a child, I was more interested in literature, and as a teenager, I was certain I wanted to do public policy work. I saw the legal system as merely an institution that proliferated the many societal wrongs that I wanted to help put an end to. In high school, I made a point to be constantly vigilant of the injustices in the world around me. Between Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, March for Our Lives, and more, social activism dominated the cultural landscape, and I did my best to stay educated and involved. I struggled to grasp the realization that I lived in a country of hypocrisy, where overcriminalization was the norm, yet police officers who killed innocent black men were rewarded with paid leave, and accused rapists were rewarded with political office. Again and again, I saw the justice system fail vulnerable populations. In my eyes, the legal system served no purpose but to uphold the status quo and I wanted no part in it.
My perspective changed in undergrad when I had the opportunity to intern with a civil rights attorney who specialized in cases involving the use of excessive force by law enforcement. I saw the uphill battle he and his clients faced. Qualified immunity and the general public’s respect for law enforcement made it near impossible for victims and their families to ever see justice. Yet they kept fighting, and I began seeing success was possible. I was able to assist with cases I had heard about on the news. Months after my internship ended, the police officer in a case I worked on was convicted of murder, and, a couple of years later, the victim’s family was awarded $23 million in damages.
Emma Hoffman with classmates at the University of Texas School of Law
I view the legal system as a tool used to uphold systemic injustices, but when wielded correctly, it can also be a tool for dismantling those injustices. When paired with community efforts and activism, real positive change can be accomplished. I have been lucky enough to see that firsthand working at the Texas Civil Rights Project.
I could not have imagined a better job for my first summer as a law student. As a first-year law student, I often found myself discouraged. The courses I was required to take were all focused on how the law is, not how it could or should be. The idealistic culture I was surrounded by as a sociology student in undergrad was replaced with a much more cynical environment. I constantly questioned if I had chosen the right path to help facilitate change. Those fears were laid to rest when I was accepted for a position in the Criminal Injustice program at TCRP.
TCRP does more than just offer legal services, it actually listens to and advocates for Texas communities. The organization’s commitment to movement lawyering is what originally drew me in, and I have seen how TCRP’s work in amplifying Texan voices and working closely with communities helps effectuate change.
Some of the projects I have worked on surround issues I had never previously considered the gravity of. One particularly impactful case I have worked on is that of Joshua Beasley. Joshua was only 11 years old when he was first incarcerated, and he was passed between facilities until his unfortunate suicide at 16. Despite his mother constantly advocating for her son to come home, the system saw him—a child—as no more than a threat to himself and others that needed to be contained. Joshua’s mother continues to fight for justice for her son, and TCRP has worked closely with her every step of the way. These tragedies could be prevented if those affected were actually heard, and TCRP recognizes that in a way that so many don’t.
It has been an honor to assist in the fight for justice for Joshua and his family, and the fight to hopefully prevent similar tragedies from happening again. The legal system has harmed so many people like Joshua, but with the work of organizations like TCRP and advocates like Joshua’s mom, the legal system can also be a way to help create a more just world.
You can contribute here so that TCRP can continue to provide opportunities like these to rising law students.