February 16, 2011
ABA Tells States to Lay Off Legal Clinics
The ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution on Monday supporting the independence of clinical education programs. Resolution 100A was passed as a response to attempts by the Maryland and Louisiana legislatures to limit the activities of legal clinics associated with universities that received public funds. These took the form of probing into client lists or information normally perceived as confidential, or limiting the forms of suit the clinics could initiate on behalf of their clients. The legislative attempts were a reaction to often successful pollution control suits brought against high profile defendants who had lobbying connections to the legislature. The Maryland and Louisiana efforts failed.
The ABA resolution is laudable as a statement that legislatures and other players should lay off interfering with a legal clinic's operations. I sadly suspect, however, that even as a policy statement coming from an organization with the stature of the ABA, there will likely be future attempts to do exactly the same thing if a large company gets annoyed by a clinic led lawsuit.
The legislatures in question had a number of options at hand, such as weakening pollution laws on behalf of the aggrieved companies. That would have been politically untenable I suppose, so trying to limit the clinics was the more expedient solution to the "problem." Legal clinics benefit law students by giving them something akin to real world experience in practice, something they rarely get in their substantive law classes. One of the lessons could conceivably be losing when the cause isn't justified under the law. That's a risk analysis the clinic undertakes (or should) before it files a suit. It's the same analysis any lawyer would undertake before filing suit.
From my perspective, the laws under which clinics file their actions are written for everybody to whom they apply. The courts are perfectly capable of sorting out who is in violation, or if a suit is unmerited. It shouldn't matter if the suit is brought by a public entity, a legal clinic, a private citizen, or whoever. If a legislature doesn't like the fact that a suit is successful, it should change the law so the outcome is different and not interfere with the ability to bring the suit. More power to the ABA and its resolution if it adds to the body of common sense that opposes these clumsy attempts to limit the application of law. [MG]
It is very common that even as a policy statement coming from an organization with the stature of the ABA, there will likely be future attempts to do exactly the same thing if a large company gets annoyed by a clinic led lawsuit.
Posted by: plumbing | May 4, 2011 2:49:05 AM