Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Clinical Experience in Law Schools

Law.com has a recent post regarding clinical programs at law schools--namely, how some law schools are beefing them up substantially. Given that a lot of internet commentary bemoans the divide between legal education and legal practice (perceived and/or actual), and that law school clinics can be a very good way for law students to gain practical legal experience, the trend toward more clinical experience is generally seen as a good one. But given that clinics are time- and faculty/staff-intensive, and thus fairly costly, some law schools are not doing as much in the clinical arena as they might like.

I was particularly interested to see what my old Ethics law prof, Larry Marshall, is up to as Stanford Law School's clinical program director--namely, trying to raise $30 million to cover part of the budget for Stanford's 9 (soon to be 10) clinics that serve around 200 law students. That's quite an outlay.

I'm curious to hear readers' views regarding law school clinics. Has anyone participated in one? What did you like? Not like? Were they beneficial? For those in law practice, did clinical experiences in law school really help? Or are law school clinics at least partly just an effort by law schools to be trendy?


Wha? said...

Yea! Clinics may be expensive, but they serve soooo many good purposes:

1) As you pointed out, they help bridge the gap between being a law-student and a lawyer. I've always thought that training to be a lawyer should be like training to be a doctor - you have your school, then you actually have to do it awhile under supervision before they hand you the keys.

2) They are often the only legal service (civil, I mean)available to the underpriviledged - the ones who are most uninformed about their rights and least able to defend them in court.

3) I'm a cynic, so I'm guessing that this is the reason that law schools are suddenly getting enthusiastic about clinics: Too many grads, not enough jobs = poor alumni.

It's too damn hard to get a high paying job at a firm unless you're in the top 10% of your class, or you know somebody really, really well. Going solo-practitioner right after l-school w/o any knowledge of "how to practice law" isn't really an option for most either, so where do all the C's go? Well, if you've worked in a clinic, then you already know people involved in Public Interest.
Hooray! The world needs all the Public Interest-types it can get.

After a few years of practice it gets easier to get a job with firms, gov't, etc., so it's not a career-death sentence.

Having a big clinic also makes your school an important part of the community, and every once in awhile gives your school (or your students) a chance to make a name for itself in an important case.

That's just off the top of my head. I'm sure there's more; it's really hard to find a downside to them - yes, they cost money, but that's not a downside, it's just a fact of life.

Gregory W. Bowman said...


You make some very good points. Law schools are comprised of people, and people respond to self-interest. The challenge, therefore, is to make the self-interest enlightened. If clinics are deemed desirable by a law school's constituents--current and prospective students, the relevant legal community, professors the school wants to hire, and so on--and if clinics help to maintain graduation employment rates (among other things), then that's a good recipe for getting more clinics at a school. Everyone wins, right?

Clinics are of course not cheap, as you note, but that's not a reason to not have them. It's a reason to figure out how to pay for them.

Wha? said...

Now there's a point I didn't consider - if a law school in the deep south (ahem) was having serious problems recruiting minority faculty (ahem), a robust -read: well-funded - law clinic that was known for zealously protecting the legal interests of that minority (as well as everyone else) would no doubt attract some very bright and energetic minority professors.

It would be especially great if it was coupled with a loan-forgiveness program.

Gregory W. Bowman said...


I couldn't agree more. And guess what I have become heavily involved in at the law school this year? Public interest law matters. Lots of student demand, and lots of community need. And diversity issues are incredibly important for a variety of reasons. So clearly it is good for the law school. More importantly, though, it is very important for the students and the community. If an institution can do well by doing good, that's a nice thing to see.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea on the paying for it part:

Rather than making practioners who move into a state retake the bar exam, how about we say that they can instead do a term pro-bono helping students with their cases in law school legal clinics, esp. if there are satellite clinics remote from the law schools in legally underserved communities.

That way all the effort currently squandered surmounting the barriers to entry that State A erects to keep out lawyers from State B is turned into something that at least provides some actual (rather than hypothetical) benefit to the people of State A and to the students in the law schools there.

The state I moved to (following a spouse) has reciprocity with precisely two states--all others must take bar exam. The bar runs piteous articles in the bar publications deploring the Legislature's failure to provide for the unmet legal service needs of the poor--while also doing everything possible to prevent more lawyers from entering, which is the only way the poor in this state are going to get more lawyering.

I suppose hypocrisy is the nod that vice pays to virtue, but it would be nice if we actually considered going beyond that.

I would gladly do two terms of pro bono involvement at a legal clinic rather than take the bar exam again, and I aced it the first time. In my case, it just repulses me to be compelled to pour that many hours down the drain simply to be allowed to practice my profession.

Wha? said...

Anon -

Now THAT is a good idea in need of backers if I've ever heard one.