Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Work of Law Professors: Trust, Dignity, and the Rule of Law

I am cross-posting my message as CLEA's president for 2018. This message appears in CLEA's Winter 2017-2018 newsletter.


I am grateful to begin service as CLEA’s President in 2018. This community empowers, equips, and inspires. Together we will continue to improve legal education and our work with students and clients. In my first address as CLEA’s President I want to urge us to remember the high calling of clinical legal education. We have important work to do this year.  

Clinical legal education has never been more important. Legal education itself stands at a crossroads alongside the nation. We bear an immense responsibility to the public and to the Republic. Law schools and law professors have profound, generational influence on the bar, the judicial system, and the laws that govern the land.  

The rule of law is essential to justice within a constitutional order, and it requires constant vigilance. Without the robust rule of law, democracy can become a dodge to pillage the people and profit pirates. The foundation of our American experiment rests on the demand that the governed participate in their own government, that no one will live outside the law established with the consent of the governed.

The rule of law depends on the trust of the governed. Trust in the law requires trust in lawmakers and the legal system. Trust in the legal system requires trust in those who operate and enforce it. Lawyers are the operatives of the rule of law, and if the people do not trust lawyers, they will not trust the system. If the system violates that trust, the rule of law will unravel and become vulnerable to poachers.  

Trust in the legal system requires expansive inclusion of the governed. This has been our great, national failure since the founding, the exclusion of people from the system that presumes to govern them. Just as the colonists insisted that they be included in the making of laws that governed them, so do all those disenfranchised across our history.

The rhetorical aspirations of a more perfect union ground the fierce urgency of expansive inclusion in the United States. The founding virtues, however flawed in execution, provide a moral foundation for inclusion and empowerment. Progress toward justice comes in fits and starts, and the jealous powers of exclusion never give ground willingly. The revolutionary United States rejected the idolatry of blood-and-soil nationalism for an order built on laws and ideals. Those laws and ideals must propel us toward inclusion and thriving human dignity.   

If we are true to the founding notes of liberty, justice, and equality for all, we will reckon with our laws, lawmaking, law enforcement, and legal systems to guard against exclusion. Justice in all its forms - social, economic, political, legal - rests on the dignity of every person. Human dignity demands inclusion and voice in government and courts that sustain the rule of law. Inequality and inequity in all their forms undermine the experiment and erode trust and reliance in the rule of law. Inequality and inequity threaten the foundations of justice. If the nation is interested in justice under the law, then lawyers must be keen to promote and protect human dignity, equality, and equity wherever we can.  

Inclusion gives life to the rule of law; exclusion kills it.

This is the urgent work of legal education. We teach and train lawyers to be public citizens, operatives of the rule of law. To be effective lawyers, our students must have a deep knowledge of the law, expertise in the tools of the trade, and wisdom to apply them both in the service of clients. To be fruitful public citizens, law schools must teach students to criticize the law and improve it, to understand its relationship with lawmakers and the governed, and to witness the nature of justice. Our students must be worthy of trust. They must dignify their neighbors and work for the ever-greater inclusion of all people.

For twenty-five years, this has been CLEA’s mission, to improve legal education, to promote better law teaching, to cultivate the virtues of public citizenship in law students. Pioneering generations of lawyer-teacher-scholars have organized, advocated, and pulled alongside eager students to teach them how to be excellent attorneys.  

In 2018, the second year of our five-year strategic plan, we continue their work in this critical institution that binds together schools, clinics, professors, and practices. In each of its committees, CLEA members contribute to the work of justice and good teaching. CLEA’s strategic plan, membership dues, conferences, newsletters, social media platforms, advocacy memos, best practices resources, research, and gatherings all promote the missions of clinical legal education. As we teach students and serve clients, CLEA works to improve the enterprise of legal education and to promote the just rule of law in the United States.

The work of self-government and the rule of law never ends. CLEA continues and accelerates its work to ensure law students become excellent lawyers who promote justice, inclusion, and dignity throughout their long careers at the bar.

Thank you for your work and vision. Thank you for your commitment to our common mission.

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So glad to have you at the helm. Thank you.

Posted by: Carolyn | Jan 4, 2018 6:49:29 AM

Thanks for the inspiration! Happy to help continue CLEA’s great works, so that our students will willingly take on the mantle of Public Citizen.

Posted by: Carrie Kaas | Jan 4, 2018 10:16:11 AM

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