Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The Northwest clinical law community often views itself as one of the most happy and energetic groups in legal education. It is easy to see why they are such a jubilant group. First, they work in a natural setting that rivals some of the most beautiful regions in the world (within a short drive of a rugged forested coastline, the volcanic Cascades, and wine country world-renowned for its pinot noir). Second, the social justice-minded cultural values of the Northwest closely align with core values of clinical legal education, which creates a natural environment for clinical opportunities integrated with the larger community. Third, the region allows room for personhood and pioneering individuality in a way that is well suited to clinical educators trying to inspire their students through transformative professional experiences.
However, not even the breathtaking setting of the Columbia River Gorge could distract the Northwest clinical community from the somber mood that hovered over the group’s regional conference this past weekend. From the group’s first gathering at Friday’s reception, all were mindful and reflective of the recent unexpected decision to close one of the oldest and most respected clinics in the Northwest, the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic. That closing threatens the continued participation and contributions of three of the most well-respected and valued clinical faculty in the Northwest: Mark Peterson, Richard Slottee, and Terry Wright. Their expected absence in years to come, as well as the planned retirement of Larry Weiser of Gonzaga after 33 years, could mark the end of an era in the Northwest clinical community.
Despite the pall in the air, the conference moved forward with presentations and discussions from a variety of new as well as experienced faculty from Seattle University, University of Washington, Gonzaga, University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark, University of Montana, the University of British Columbia, and Willamette. The community learned about new clinics at the University of Oregon and the University of Washington, examined models of collaborating with volunteer attorneys, externships, legal writing faculty, and law librarians, considered the ethical challenges of representing children in law school clinics, and provided feedback on a book Deborah Maranville is co-editing on legal education. A new organization was even created to support externship directors in the region. All in all, it was a productive conference.
The group has already scheduled the dates for next year’s conference: October 2-4, 2015, at Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth, Washington (http://www.sleepinglady.com/). Before they left though, the conference participants did something that this group rarely does. They entered a formal session, discussed the tragedy unfolding at Lewis & Clark, and unanimously agreed to express their deep concern over the decision to close the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic to the Lewis & Clark administration, the AALS Section on Legal Education, and the ABA Section on Legal Education. When those letters are available, I will post them here. In the meanwhile, I encourage you to contact our colleagues at Lewis & Clark with any suggestions or insights you have that may be helpful to them in these deeply disturbing circumstances.