Friday, January 13, 2012

Can land use form the basis for an “impact” transactional clinic?

This year I started the University of Idaho College of Law’s new Economic Development Clinic (the “Clinic”), which is a transactionally-focused clinic that draws from land use, administrative, state and local government, and environmental law.  As I was planning the Clinic, I came across Praveen Kosuri’s (UPenn) excellent article, "Impact" in 3D - Maximizing Impact through Transactional Clinics, 18 CLINICAL L. REV. 1 (2011).

In that article, I felt Kosuri made a number of great points that aligned with, and affirmed, nascent ideas I had about how to structure my Clinic, and provided what I saw as a new way forward for traditional community economic development (CED) clinics like the one I took in law school. 

Foremost, he noted that “impact” clinics have typically been structured as litigation-based clinics, with the idea of providing benefits to a group or class through litigating individual claims.  Kosuri makes a strong case that transactional clinics can have a broader impact, as well.  Kosuri says that his clinic takes on three types of transactional clients:  (i) “low to moderate income entrepreneurs from economically distressed communities”; (ii) “bigger projects with client representations that will have a substantial multiplier effect on impact simply if the entrepreneurs, who are engaged in community revitalizing efforts themselves, are successful in their endeavors”; and (iii) “double bottom-line businesses, those not focused solely on profit, but also on societal benefit.”  I find this approach invigorating in that it both focuses on individual clients, while also trying to use the knowledge gleaned from individual representation to help a larger group.  I think it is also potentially valuable because this is an approach that can have a real impact on a community in a way that is community building rather than adversarial.  While this does not displace the role of impact litigation, what a valuable experience it would be for students to recognize that they can have an “impact” through transactional lawyering as well as through litigation.  I think this is especially true because a number of lawyers who end up doing transactional work, as many land use lawyers essentially do, as well as many corporate lawyers, can find it difficult to find pro bono opportunities in the real world that have significance beyond individual clients.  Teaching students how to structure transactional work to have a broader impact seems a valuable long-term tool to give students who go on to become transactional lawyers.

Kosuri also notes that this kind of representation can be a supplement to what he calls traditional CED lawyering, such as representation of community groups and institutions.  By expanding the notion of CED, and potentially CED clinics, along the lines Kosuri discusses in his article, I believe there is a chance to breathe new life into the CED clinic practice.  Kosuri’s “impact” approach is one I hope to integrate into my Clinic as it grows through the years.

Stephen Miller

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