Friday, February 24, 2006

Law School Clinics - A History

Here's an interesting vignette from an intriguing article (in which Georgetown's clinics make several appearances). I'm sure several of our clinics continue to do a lot of good ... I've got friends in CALS, Juvenile Justice, and others who are finding their time worthwhile. But it's worth thinking about the whole picture.

"Environmental law clinics have sued the army, cities, foresters, petrochemical producers, the EPA, landfills, farmers, and freighters, among many other evildoers. But one famous environmental fight deliciously demonstrated just how specious is the clinics’ “we’re representing the poor” justification. In 1997, Tulane’s environmental law clinic barred a planned plastics plant from a predominantly black township between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The clinic claimed that it was fighting “environmental racism,” but many town residents, backed by the NAACP, had worked for years to win the Shintech company’s new PVC plant for their parish. After Shintech threw in the towel, Louisiana’s governor, furious at the loss of jobs, persuaded the state supreme court to change the rules governing when law students can represent clients. Under the new guidelines, students could represent community groups only if 51 percent of the group’s members had incomes below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines."

"You would have thought the court had required law professors and law partners to donate a portion of their income to poor relief. The legal elite rose up in outrage at the requirement that law clinics actually do what they claim they’re doing: represent the indigent. NYU’s Brennan Center, the New York firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the Association of American Law Schools, the American Association of University Professors, UC Berkeley’s Center for Clinical Education, and the ACLU sued the Louisiana Supreme Court for violating professors’ and students’ First Amendment rights. With unlawyerlike illogic, David Udell, director of the Brennan Center’s poverty program, railed: “Poor communities in Louisiana still virtually have nowhere to obtain justice.” In the same spirit, the Association of American Law Schools protested that the Louisiana rules “will effectively deny law students the opportunity to provide access to justice for the working poor and for many poor community organizations in Louisiana.”

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