Monday, April 12, 2010

NYT Covers Threats to Environmental Law Clinics

Recently I posted about an attack by the Maryland legislature on the environmental clinic at U. of Maryland.  The clinic recently filed suit against Perdue and a local grower over environmental violations in their chicken farming operations.  Now the MD leg. wants say-so over who the clinics will take as clients.  If this causes some cognitive dissonance for you, as it did for me, a colleague of mine cleared it up for me - it seems as if the idea is to force the clinic director to do something that will cause her to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, and thus be disbarred.

If this was a one-off situation, we could be concerned and possibly outraged, but the reality is that environmental clinics are subject to a chilling effect over taking controversial clients, or cases that threaten the interests of powerful businesses.  Now The New York Times has done an article and an editorial about the pervasive dampening effects of this trend on the clinics' ability to take good cases that make good learning experiences for students. The most compelling quote from the article:

Law clinics at other universities — from New Jersey to Michigan to Louisiana — are facing similar challenges. And legal experts say the attacks jeopardize the work of the clinics, which not only train students with hands-on courtroom experience at more than 200 law schools but also have taken on more cases against companies and government agencies in recent years.

“We’re seeing a very strong pushback from deep-pocket interests, and that pushback is creating a chilling effect on many clinics,” said Robert R. Kuehn, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, citing a recent survey he conducted that found that more than a third of faculty members at legal clinics expressed fears about university or state reaction to their casework and that a sixth said they had turned down unpopular clients because of these concerns.

Here at the Land Use Clinic we do transactional and policy-based work that tends to be less controversial.  However, I sometimes wonder if a powerful interest will resent our involvement in one of the more entrenched community controversies in our caseload.  Therefore, I will continue to follow, and blog about, this important issue.

Jamie Baker Roskie

Environmental Law, Politics, Teaching | Permalink

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