'Law School Clinics in The Community' (Book Chapter) in Town and Gown: Legal Strategies for Effective Collaboration (American Bar Association) Edited by Cynthia Baker & Patricia Salkin
Town and Gown: Legal Strategies for Effective Collaboration (American Bar Association) eds. Cynthia Baker & Patricia Salkin, 2012
27 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2012 Last revised: 12 Jan 2013
Date Written: October 31, 2012
Law School Clinics connect with and affect their local communities in varied and multi-layered ways. Offering a point of entry for the community into the academy, law clinics bring the needs and realities of the host community and its individual members directly into contact with law school students, faculty and employees. When community members, leaders and organizers enter the law school clinic to request legal services, meet student lawyers, or advocate for partnerships, they also bring the woes and needs of the community directly, and often memorably, to the attention of law school faculty and students. At the same time, the lawyer-students and their supervising faculty enter most intimately into the lives, neighborhoods and concerns of the diverse and varied folks who populate the host community and beyond. Energized and transformed by the call of justice or the needs of another, those same students and faculty members use their engagement with the human face of the law to create more engaging classrooms, connect intellectual inquiry with particularized local examples of concern and motivate law school community members to become involved in a myriad of community-related justice issues.
Law School clinics are obviously beneficial to their connected municipality in three main ways. First, law school clinics provide educational outreach and awareness, technical assistance and referral information about governmental and non-governmental benefits to which members of the community are entitled (or for which they are eligible), but of which they may be unaware. In the course of hearing about potential client needs or potential student cases and projects, clinics refer clients to already available services, providing efficient and effective triage for community problems. Second, law school clinics help support a more sustainable community by solving unmet legal needs with free legal services. Particularly in difficult economic times, when budget cuts cause shrinkage in federal and state funded legal services, law school clinics are essential for assisting in efforts to address unmet legal needs. Third, most law school clinics operate for credit “Field Placement Programs” which provide needed legal support (i.e., law school interns) to local public infrastructure, such as local courts, government agencies (including District or County attorney’s offices), and local legal service providers.
Law school clinics are also beneficial to host communities in less obvious ways. Law school clinics train cadres of lawyer-leaders in client-centered and community centered lawyering skills and values. These are the laboratories in which future community leaders, public interest lawyers, public service lawyers and pro bono lawyers first embrace the practice of their profession and develop nuanced understanding of their professional identity. In recent years, law school clinics have also engaged in an intentional way in community economic development issues and community lawyering. Law school clinics also are supportive of the host community’s most vulnerable populations and have proven to be critical resources at a community’s most vulnerable moments.
Given the multiple interactions between the law clinic and the larger community, it is not surprising that some commonplace as well as some thorny legal and political issues often arise. Law student clinical practice involves both the ethical analysis of its own limits as well as a nuanced understanding of the conflict and confidentiality issues that may arise in a law school clinic setting. After all, most law firms or legal service organizations do not have an entire turnover of junior lawyers every 14-15 weeks. Nor do they commonly or regularly have employees who “intern” for several different legal organizations over the course of the same year or at the same time.
In order to flesh out the less obvious as well as the obvious connections between law school clinics and host communities, this chapter will first provide an overview of the number and types of law clinic programs which exist nationwide. Next, it will describe law school clinics link with local municipalities, train future community leaders and address unmet legal. Particular attention will be given to community lawyering, economic development, vulnerable populations and community disaster scenarios. The chapter closes with an examination of some challenges that surface because of law student representation of clients or when law clinics take on controversial issues or powerful interests.
Keywords: clinical legal education, legal education, law schools
JEL Classification: I20, I21, I28, I29, R58
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation