Saturday, June 22, 2019

How to combat "public interest drift" among law students

The phrase "public interest drift" refers to the phenomenon that many students come to law school wanting to do "good" by engaging in public service but then get diverted from their goals for various reasons over the next three years of law school. Professors Alexi Freeman and Katherine Steefel (both of DU) have recently published an article discussing strategies for combating "public interest drift" in the context of clinical education. Their article is entitled Uniting the Head, Hands, and Heart: How Specialty Externships can Combat Public Interest Drift and is available at 25 Clinical L. Rev. 325 (2019) and here on SSRN. From the abstract:

Many students come to law school because they want to use their law degrees “for good,” to help people, have an impact on society, or create social change. As has been extensively documented, these plans often dissipate at some point during their three years. Public interest drift, as this phenomenon is commonly referred, is a crisis caused by numerous factors. It requires a full-fledged, multi-faceted effort to push back against it. In this article, we propose the development of public interest specialty externship programs as one tool to combat drift. These programs offer students the ability to extern at a specific group of placements, unified not necessarily by practice type but by a central public interest theme, and to enroll in a corresponding seminar that explores such a theme in more depth in a classroom setting. Using two case studies from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law as examples, this article explores how specialty programs can work intentionally to maintain students’ commitment to using their law degrees to promote the public good, helping them rediscover their passions, and in turn, uniting their heads, hands, and hearts.


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