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May 12, 2010

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Howard Wasserman

That we must fight the battle also indicates a major obstacle to adopting a version of the med-school model in law schools. Most clinical opportunities in law are going to be built around representing under-represented groups and causes that are adverse to the government or powerful interests--the very clinics that an opportunistic and self-serving legislature is likely to attack.

James

I wonder if the bill would have the effect of prohibiting law school clinics from assisting veterans with their claims against the government for benefits.

Ben Buchwalter

To say that university law clinics cannot sue state agencies is problematic for a bunch of reasons. First of all, most of these law clinics are not, as some claim, radical bastions of left-wing angst. Last year, for example, Tulane's environmental law clinic contributed to a major settlement from an oil and gas management company accused of causing a mercury leak. Before that, the clinic helped prevent a power plant's conversion to a petroleum burning facility. This isn't a clinic that's just blowing off steam. It's achieving tangible and important results for the environment.

Also, since when are government-funded entities not allowed to sue the government? A number of red-state attorneys general sued the federal government over health care reform earlier this year. Should they be legally barred from doing so since they're paid by the government? Should the US Attorney General be prohibited from investigating the president?

Louisiana's law would create a dangerous precedent and shield state governments from scrutiny by powerful and effective emerging lawyers.

John Steele

My sympathies are with the clinics, and I strongly believe that legislatures should not interfere with ongoing suits.

At the same time, if the academic interests are limited to educating students effectively, the various state legislatures are not seriously interfering with that interest. Clinics can still teach effective lawyering in a variety of ways. The real interference seems to be with the academic interest in pursuing particular political outcomes via litigation. Is that a legitimate academic interest?

Vladimir

I completely agree, Dan -- it's well worth fighting for, maybe even resigning over. What's the point of being a law prof, really, if you can't be at a school that can take on important causes? And what a splash mass resignations would make.

Also, Legal Services Corporation v. Velazquez seems right on point here, doesn't it, for the proposition that the legislature can't put strings on the money it gives to legal services organizations (and law schools, by extension), particularly in telling them they can't litigate constitutional claims. Second, how much should law profs put into this battle? It's well worth fighting, yes, but I think it's also worth resigning over. Imagine if 70% of law profs at schools being tinkered with resigned

Vladimir

Ooops...scratch that last comment. My "fat finger" slipped and hit post before I finished.

Howard Wasserman

John:

It is for clinics. The idea of clinics is to teach through actual representation of actual clients in actual disputes. That is what makes it different from trial advocacy or pretrial litigation or other simulation courses. But if clients don't represent poor and other under-represented clients, often in disputes with government, who else are they going to represent? And if clients cannot pursue the full range of litigation options on behalf of those clients, how are students really learning about client representation? Imagine if a state legislature said med students doing their rotations cannot learn about abortions. It seems to me the same thing is at work here.

John Steele

Howard, thanks.

Ian Weinstein, Prof. of Law and Assoc. Dean for Clinical & Exp. Progs., Fordham Law School

I would frame the clinical legal education mission as equal access to justice. There are many resources to "empower" those who can afford legal services, although the word really tilts the debate. Those who can afford a lawyer can get access to our courts and be heard in our law making bodies. What happens in those fora is governed by law, which in turn is political but that is a different matter.

I don't think it right or good for legislators to view access to public institutions as a good that should be allocated by the majority without restriction by norm or rule.

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