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Politicians and Corporations Attack Law School Clinics

Law school clinics are programs run by law schools that provide students the opportunity to gain practical experience by taking real cases and representing actual clients in court or in other ways.  Typically, clinics focus on various areas of need, such as domestic violence, immigration, or civil rights.  Since they provide free services to marginalized populations, clinics naturally represent the "little guy," often against government or wealthy corporations.  The New York Times reports that corporations and politicians that are unhappy with law schools are now attempting to lobby state legislatures to cut off or restrict funding for clinics that sue the government or corporations, as well as force clinics to disclose information about their clients and work.

I rarely get too angry at stuff in the news, as I'm not too surprised by the bad stuff anymore.  However, this article has me frothing at the mouth.  Those of us who have been to law school know that clinic is about the only chance you get for practical education, i.e., learning about how to actually practice law.  And those of us in social services know that law school clinics are critical to helping ease some of the enormous burden on legal aid and other agencies and non-profits; I referred a lot of domestic violence and sexual assault victims to the UT Family Violence Clinic when they had been turned away by others because of limited resources.  Without clinics, thousands more each year would end up homeless or even dead, without realistic recourse against the perpetrators of harm and wrongdoing.  Attorney-client confidentiality issues aside, the proposed measures would basically prevent those most in need from getting legal representation.

And in response to that one politician who talked about pro-life or pro-death penalty clinics, there ARE several law clinics around the country that have worked on behalf of so-called "conservative" causes, including 2nd Amendment rights, religious practices, and entrepreneurship (such as the Institute for Justice/Federalist Society-funded clinic at my alma mater, the University of Chicago).  In reality, most of the work done by clinics is not really ideological; it's simply exploring what possible remedies may exist for their clients.  Suing a corporation such as Perdue is not about clinics wanting to be regulators; rather, as ethically required of attorneys, clinic students and professors have an obligation to examine all legal options.  If any other attorney told her client, I'm sorry, I can't make such-and-such legal claims against our opponent because I'm philosophically opposed to such laws, then that lawyer would almost certainly face a malpractice suit and serious discipline by the bar.  If a client comes to a clinic saying, hey, I'm suffering from such and such disease because of this company's practices, then a clinic would be breaching its ethical duty by saying, okay, we'll represent you, but we'll only make two out of five possible claims.

It's already objectionable enough that clinics are currently feeling forced to turn down clients because they are not likable or popular.  If there is a credible movement to shut down or restrain clinics, then I believe it is very reasonable to say that the damage inflicted on vulnerable populations will increase tremendously.  I would be willing to dedicate my life and resources to opposing such efforts if necessary.  After all, the Supreme Court now says we can spend all the money we want on this stuff.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are solely the views of the author in his capacity as a private citizen.  None of the above should be construed as legal advice.  None of the above should be construed as a political endorsement for or against any candidate for any office.

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