Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Death of a Clinic

On January 1, 2015, there was one fewer law school clinic in America. The Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic, one of the oldest and most well-respected clinics in the Northwest, silently closed its doors.

The Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic provided debtor-creditor, landlord-tenant, and family law services, including a significant amount of work representing victims of domestic violence. The clinic was founded in 1971, and together its full-time faculty, Dick Slottee, Teresa Wright, and Mark Peterson had spent approximately fifty years combined at Lewis & Clark. All had security of position; in fact, Professor Slottee, who was the clinic director, had tenure. The clinic served approximately 230 low-income and indigent clients per year and involved 35 to 70 students.

As recently as last summer, Lewis & Clark Law School touted the clinic’s work in Advocate Magazine. In the words of one recent Lewis & Clark alumna, “The value derived from the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic is immeasurable. It teaches practical skills and it provides students a special opportunity to put the legal theories we learn in an abstract manner in the classroom into practice . . . The focus is on the students and the students are wholly supported.”

According to the Lewis & Clark Law School Dean, Jennifer Johnson, the decision to close the clinic was driven by budget constraints. She indicated that the goal was to offer lawyering skills and opportunities “for all students in a cost effective manner” and stated that “Going forward, we must focus our in-house clinics on those with significant fund raising potential,” while asserting that “current budget realities-for both the law school and our students-make this move necessary.” The rumor is that Lewis & Clark had an unexpected million-dollar shortfall and had already significantly cut the library budget (the largest budget item other than personnel), and so moved to the next largest item in the budget: the law school’s clinic. True or not, Johnson’s own framing of the decision exclusively as a financial one is worrisome.

In Pricing Clinical Legal Education, 92 Denver University Law Review 1 (2014), Robert Kuehn of Washington University Law finds that offering clinical opportunities to law school students has no net impact on tuition and concludes that offering clinical opportunities to students is determined by the law school’s will to offer such opportunities to students. As law schools consider how to balance the budget and keep the lights on during the worst downturn in law school enrollment in modern history, it is natural that some administrators may be tempted to conduct a casual analysis and conclude that high enrollment courses are the answer and try to cut costs by reducing smaller experiential courses.

However, a familiarity with effective pedagogies and the retention yields of various methods reveals that not all courses are equal when it comes to learning outcomes. The value of courses and teaching methods should not be measured predominantly by teaching or staffing inputs, but rather by learning efficiencies, efficacies, and outcomes. After all, if we hold ourselves out as educators, we owe it to our students to have a reasonable familiarity with effective educational methods and to utilize and prioritize those, rather than continue to offer course and curricula designs that have been scientifically proven by study after study to be ineffective. 

Accepting tuition in exchange for enrollment in courses designed around learning methods that have been scientifically proven to be ineffective is unconscionable. Those simulated practice courses, externships, and clinics may cost more than placing 80 students in the room with a single lecturer, but they are far more likely to produce better learning outcomes for our students. Can you imagine a law school committed to designing and offering courses according to learning outcomes rather than cost input?

Even if one is not motivated by effective pedagogy, from a business perspective, we know that students care about clinics. A recent survey indicates that clinics and externships are one of the most significant factors students consider when deciding where to attend law school (location is number one).

After the decision to close the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic was announced in September, another faculty member, Kathy Hessler, sent an email to the national clinic listserv informing the members of our community. She pointed out that the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic was the only one at the law school that was funded directly by the law school. It is hard to imagine other law school courses being expected to go out and procure their own funding.

When one considers the effectiveness of clinical pedagogy, as well as the new ABA accreditation standards mandating experiential education, it is deeply concerning that an educational program built around one of the most effective learning methods known to us would be singled out to be "self funded."

Even more concerning, though, was the resounding silence of the national clinical community to the news of the decision. Just a handful of emails were sent in response. At the Northwest Clinical Conference in October, attendees voted to send a letter to the Lewis & Clark Dean expressing our deep concern over the decision and offering our support to reverse the decision. In response, Dean Johnson emailed each signatory and the dean of the person’s home law school, and directed them to have our dean contact her if we would like “further input into this issue.” Was she trying to intimidate us into silence with this power play? Perhaps, but apparently, there was no need. I have said nothing since. Have you?

This is the way a clinic ends. This is the way a clinic ends. This is the way a clinic ends. Not with a bang, but with silence.

 

January 11, 2015 in ABA Standards, Clinic News, Clinic Profile, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Great Debate: Externships for Credit and Pay (ABA proposal for elimination of Interpretation 305-3).

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As an Externship Program Director and co-chair of the AALS Section on Externships, I have been deeply entrenched in the proposed elimination of Interpretation 305-3 for quite some time now.  My primary reason for posting this is to provide information about why I (and many of my clinical colleagues) support keeping the interpretation. 

The main supporters of the interpretation’s elimination are students who will be graduating with vast amounts of loan debt.  Of course, there are students and clinicians on both sides of the issue; however, if you read through the ABA's notice and comment website, you will find that all of the student remarks support elimination while nearly all the clinical and community partner organizations’ comments support upholding the Interpretation.

Concerns

The primary benefit of an externship should be to the student and not to the placement (employer).  There may be some employers who would be willing to build this benefit into an employee contract, but I suspect that most cannot or will not.  Without the leverage of a contract that requires the employer to put their rights subservient to the students’ learning objectives, the pedagogical value of externships would be severely undermined.  This is one of the main concerns of those who oppose elimination of the prohibition. 

To read more about this concern and several others, please see CLEA’s Statement.  

To read more about my personal concerns, please see my statement to the ABA.

Middle Ground? 

One possible way to alleviate some of the tensions that exist would be clarification of the Interpretation’s final sentence: “This Interpretation does not preclude reimbursement of out-of-pocket reasonable expenses related to field placements.”  On the externship listserv, we often field questions about what constitutes "reasonable expenses.”  Some externship directors construe this broadly while others construe the expenses that can be recouped narrowly.   If the ABA provided some additional guidance that enabled us to construe this broadly, students could benefit from grants or other stipends offered to offset the costs.  If grants and stipends are external and not directly connected to compensation for work product, the money would not compromise the relationship in the same way as a salary.

Final Thoughts

Reasonable minds can disagree.  I am certainly empathetic about the law student experience of today; I have read their comments and discussed this issue with my ABA student representatives.  My colleagues and I have given much consideration to their position.  I only ask that law students and the Council do the same.  We have the collective experiences of many externship directors, who have done this work for decades.  We too, have the value of the student experience at heart; we just have a different interpretation of the word "value." 

Mentor

April 25, 2014 in ABA Standards | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)