Recently I had the honor of co-editing a book with my friend Professor Cynthia Baker of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law entitled “Town and Gown: Legal Strategies for Effective Collaboration” (ABA 2013). Our colleague Judith Welch Wegner of the University of North Carolina Law School contributed a chapter on the continuum of relationships between institutions and their host municipalities and communities where among other things, she describes partnerships that can both advance the educational mission of colleges and universities as well as the welfare of the communities in which they are situated. Professor Wegner explains how these tend to be more decentralized collaborations that may include faculty research, student internships including instruction and engagement in the work of the local government, and other service initiatives.
Albany Law School’s Professor Mary Lynch and her co-author Jennifer Jack make the point in their chapter of the value that law school clinics provide as they connect with and affect their host communities. Specifically, they identify four ways in which law school clinics may be beneficial to their connected municipality: 1) through educational outreach and awareness, technical assistance, and referral information about governmental and other benefits that members of the community may be entitled to – which, they explain, may result in the law school serving as a referring entity or effective triage for community problems; 2) by solving unmet legal needs in the community through the provision of free legal services (and noting that this is especially critical in challenging economic climates where there is a shrinkage in federal and state funding for legal services); 3) through externships where students can provide needed support for the localpublic legal system including courts, government agencies and legal service providers; and 4) through clinical education many schools produce community-centered lawyers who often pursue careers in public interest, government, legal services and pro bono work.
The chapter on clinics was written before Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New York metropolitan area and Long Island, along with the Jersey Shore just under a year ago, yet the authors give as an example how law school clinics respond to disasters within communities such as was the case following Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi and the disaster in Haiti. The Student Hurricane Relief Network, later renamed Student Disaster Relief Network was born out of the commitment of law students from across the country to make trips, at their own expense, to ravaged areas in the Gulf Coast. Following Sandy, Touro Law Center set up TLC-HEART or the Hurricane Emergency Assistance Referral Team, which quickly grew into a clinic under the leadership of Professor Ben Rajotte. With over 1,400 intakes from the community in a relatively short period of time and ongoing daily demand for its services, the capacity of the law school to serve the community has been enhanced by the commitment of students from across the country and Europe from approximately 20 different law schools who have already visited to provide pro bono hours (or who plan to visit between now and spring break). This number of quality volunteer hours given by law students and law faculty is an ongoing demonstration of law schools’ investment of educational resources can and often do serve the needs of both students and the members of the host community. This is but one example illustrating how quickly law schools can mobilize to serve a valid educational mission and meet a valuable and immediate and critical community legal need.
When the media and others start the chatter about too many law schools, one of the many responses the academy might offer is the value proposition law schools, particularly through clinics and externships, bring to the community.