The Yale Visual Law Project

March 4, 2013

S.A., 1L

The ability to craft a strong argument is essential to a successful legal career. Law students spend much time, both inside and outside the classroom, analyzing arguments and creating their own. While most of this effort is focused on written and oral argumentation, YLS also provides students with an outlet to engage in visual advocacy, by making arguments through film with the Visual Law Project.

The Yale Visual Law Project seeks to advance the work of legal advocates by using film and storytelling to make collaborative and high-impact documentaries that explore pressing legal issues. Started in 2010 by a law student who had been a filmmaker prior to attending YLS, the project has already produced three films and trained over two dozen YLS students. The films that have been made so far explore Connecticut’s Supermax prison, immigration raids in Baltimore, and racial profiling in New York City through the controversial “stop and frisk” program. The film about Connecticut prisons and solitary confinement, The Worst of the Worst, has been featured on MSNBC and screened by groups such as the ACLU of Connecticut, the Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform, and the Connecticut Department of Correction. VLP is currently working on two films: one about immigration detention and another about community policing right here in New Haven.

You do not need to have any prior experience with filmmaking in order to participate in VLP. Moreover, you’re able to engage with every aspect of the process – from preliminary research to production to editing to distribution. I have joined as an affiliate this semester, which means I can contribute to as many or as few projects as my schedule allows. Examples of current projects include writing scripts, contacting potential interviewees, planning and producing shoots, arranging screenings of past films and so on. Affiliates are also trained by core group members on how to use the camera and editing software. My first session in the editing suite is this weekend and I cannot wait to begin learning not only the technical aspects of editing footage but also how to piece things together in a way that tells the most cohesive and compelling story.

There are so many different stories to be told about the far-reaching impact of the law, and the Visual Law Project harnesses the power of these stories through film. It teaches law students to think more broadly about what it means to be an advocate and to engage with the law’s actual impact on people and communities.