Bending the Rules: A Look at NYU Law’s Regulatory Policy Clinic

Normally people hear the phrase “bending the rules” and think of skirting a process or going outside the lines. In the world of administrative law, though, bending the rules, so to speak, is part of the process.

Here’s what I mean: federal agencies influence almost every aspect of our lives through their rulemaking (hence, bending the rules). Many times, Congress passes a broad law, then gives the appropriate agency the responsibility of working out the details through regulations. But to make sure that agencies aren’t overstepping their bounds, agencies are required to first put forth what’s called a “Proposed Rule.” These proposed rules lay out in detail what the agency plans to do in a specific area. Then there is a “Notice and Comment” period when any member of the public can submit comments to the agency on a proposed rule. And thanks to the Administrative Procedure Act, which created this process (and a few Supreme Court cases that I won’t delve into), agencies must actually read and respond to the public’s concerns when implementing the “Final Rule.”

Coal train in Colorado
Coal train in Colorado   Photo credit: Creative Commons – el-toro

Now, how does this relate to the Regulatory Policy Clinic? The clinic focuses on giving students the opportunity to influence agency rulemaking—and, thus, crucial policy issues—by drafting and submitting comments on proposed agency rules in an array of areas. As a student in the Regulatory Policy Clinic, you have a primary “client” in the Institute for Policy Integrity (IPI), a “non-partisan think tank dedicated to improving the quality of governmental decisionmaking.” With Dean Emeritus and environmental law professor and scholar Richard L. Revesz as its director, the IPI focuses heavily on environmental issues, but also advocates in various other areas. Students have worked on comments for issues ranging from greenhouse gas emissions to payday lending to regulations for window blinds.

Coal power plant   Photo credit: Creative Commons – Bruno D. Rodrigues

The clinic has about eight or nine students each semester who are paired in two- or three-person teams to work on two projects over the course of the semester. Currently, my partner LeeAnn and I are working on comments to submit for a proposed rule by the Bureau of Land Management. It’s exciting because we are able not only to practice our advocacy and writing skills in the context of administrative agencies, but also to have an opportunity to influence real-world policy decisions.

One important reason that agencies are required to submit their proposed rules to the public for a notice and comment period is that agencies are comprised of unelected officials who make huge decisions affecting each of our lives. In that sense, participating in the notice and comment process by suggesting changes to a proposed rule is somewhat like voting, but with the chance to offer much more specific feedback on the outcome you’d like to see.

For any NYU Law student looking to gain expertise and experience in the areas of public policy or administrative law, I highly recommend considering the Regulatory Policy Clinic (five credits; generally offered in spring and fall).