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August 04, 2013


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No Tenure!

Mitch, just wanted to thank your for posting here. You bring a unique voice to our community.

Have you been able to come to any conclusions about the per credit hour cost of MCL's clinics relative to:
1. the cost of MCL's other courses
2. the cost of an ABA accredited school's other courses

Wanted to get your real world insight on the expense of a clinic intensive approach. Does a clinic intensive approach increase expense?

Mitch Winick

There is no question that moving towards a clinical model has additional cost. The ratios of faculty to student drop precipitously. For a small school like ours, it isn't quite as bad since a regular class has about 30 students. So our ratio drops from 30/1 in classes to about 10/1 in advisory clinics and 5/1 in community workshops. It also helps that we use adjunct faculty as supervising attorneys who work under the general supervision of one full-time Associate Dean. As some of the programs grow in demand, we are experimenting with using upper division students as teaching fellows (who have already participated in the program) to provide additional support, although we will always have a supervising attorney on-site during programs. Teaching fellows can choose to get paid or receive a credit (so this also reduces net cost).

The best answer is that we have some external financial support for the clinical programs, including: annual grants from the local bar association; periodic donations from alumni and local lawyers (frequently those who also volunteer to assist in the programs); DRPA funds (Dispute Resolution Act funding collected statewide from civil filing fees -$8.00 per filing) to support the community mediation programs; and a small annual contract from the Superior Court to supplement the small claims advisory clinic.

We are submitting two separate Community Foundation grant requests this year for a proposed new program that will provide a version of self-help clinics in the rural communities that in a number of instances have no local lawyers. We are partnering with the regional public library network to provide venues.

law Professor John Banzhaf

The two preceding comments seem to assume that students can receive real-world training in legal skills only in clinics in which they represent real clients under very close (and often very expensive) faculty supervision.

But my article below, "Try Clinical Courses Without Clients," suggests an alternative which I have used very successfully for many years. It might not prove to be applicable to many or even most law schools, but it might be at least worth a try since it has has worked very well at my own George Washington University for some 40 years. See, NYTMagazine - The Law Professor Behind ASH, SOUP, PUMP, and CRASH -

A major complaint from both BigLaw hiring partners and corporation counsel is that law school graduates often have such little practical-skills training that the clients are unwilling to pay for legal work done by new associates, and firms are therefore reluctant to hire them. So, many law students interested in getting a leg up in the current distressed legal job market want to get real skills training—beyond the make believe of moot court, trail advocacy, and writing research papers for professors, journals, or contests.

One traditional way to seek such training was to take a legal clinic. But because clinic courses usually severely limit the number of law students each clinical professor can supervise, the cost to the law school of providing such clinic training can be very expensive if not prohibitive; a major factor which can thus prevent the expansion of existing law school clinics or the establishment of new ones.

The supervisor-to-student ratios for clinics are often kept low because of the need – growing out of ethical obligations, best-practice guidelines, etc – to protect the rights of individual clients. Because of concerns about having clinicians overseeing too many students, a clinical professor supervising only 10 students at a time may be much more costly to the law school than a professor teaching a substantive class of 100 – even if the latter’s salary is 2-3 times higher.

So why not have some courses in which students engage in real legal activities, but without the limitations of representing individual clients?

For many years I taught a course in public interest law where I often supervised more than a dozen students a term in bringing real legal actions which usually proved to be remarkably successful. The students didn’t need – and probably didn’t want – the very close type of supervision and guidance they might get in a clinic.

Instead, knowing that they were largely responsible for their own success or failure, they worked harder – as real lawyers are often forced to do – familiarizing themselves with new legal areas. The resulting feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment from their successes were all the stronger because the students proved to themselves that they were able to work largely on their own without constant oversight.

It also meant that, in addition to supervising more than 10 students in a clinical course, I was able to teach a 4-hour substantive course in Torts during the same term; in classes which could exceed 100 students.

In short, it’s apparently possible to give many more law students real world legal experience, with much lower costs because of higher supervisor-to-student ratios, simply by not having the students represent individual clients. But not representing clients don’t mean that students must pass up the important experience of learning how to interview individuals regarding their legal problems.

For example, when my students did a project about spousal abuse, they interviewed many battered women. But the petition for rulemaking they filed with the DC Police Department – which resulted in important new protections for battered women – was not filed in the women's individual names, so the need for very close oversight and supervision to protect their individual legal rights was absent.

Likewise, when law students researched a legal petition which resulted in making emergency warning messages on TV accessible to deaf people, they talked with many hearing impaired individuals, but did not legally represent them. Moreover, in moving from that victory to establishing the National Center for Law and the Deaf, they had to interview many more deaf individuals – a task made even more difficult than usual by the need to use interpreters.

Other examples abound. Both Alan Dershowitz at Harvard, and GWU's Jonathan Turley, have used students to assist them in bringing real cases in real courts. But neither is restricted to teaching only in clinics in which a limited number of students receive this valuable real-life training. Instead, each also teaches substantive courses to large numbers of students as their colleagues do.

In short, as a supplement to the usual arrangement of courses which offer no or very little real-world skills training, and clinics where students represent real clients and therefore must be very closely supervised, law schools - specially during the current budget crisis - might want to consider expanding opportunities for clinical training outside of traditional clinics, and instead as part of substantive classes, with the students representing themselves rather than others, largely in administrative proceedings.

Mitch Winick

Thank you for this post. It is just the kind of innovative approach that I hope we hear more about. In fact, it has already got me thinking about wether there is a version that we could try here at MCL.

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