Springtime is clinic time here at NYU Law. Between March 5, when the Clinic Fair offers students an opportunity to meet teachers and current students from all of the clinics, to May 12, when placements are made, we law students must add the clinic application process to the list of things that keep us busy.
So law school clinics were already foremost on my mind when I read a New York Times article about public law schools that have come under fire for their clinics’ legal battles against powerful interest groups.
In response to complaints from industry leaders, lawmakers in five states are blocking state funds from going towards the clinical programs of state-funded law schools. The most recent example, the Times explained, is in Maryland where a clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law filed environmental claims against chicken processor Perdue Farms. The poultry giant–also the state’s largest employer–now is lobbying the state legislature to prevent the clinic from receiving its public funding.
What ruffles my feathers (get it?) isn’t lobbying or lobbyists. It’s the foul politics of the matter.
The clinics’ critics (say that three times fast) argue that public funding of clinics uses tax dollars in ways “counterproductive to the state’s interests.” Really? Maintaining Constitutional norms and environmental regulations aren’t in state interests? What about discrimination laws? Upholding civil and politics rights?
Perdue’s claim is not only offensively cynical, but a bad argument. Why not at least argue that these schools are wasting taxpayer money because the lawsuits are frivolous? Still false, but less flagrantly so.
As a law student here, I’ve also seen firsthand just how essential clinics are to a sound legal education. At NYU, clinics addressing employment discrimination, LGBT rights, and immigrant rights, to name a few, provide students with an opportunity to 1) work on cutting-edge legal issues and 2) improve the day-to-day skills that they will need as practicing lawyers. And to those who claim that the clinical experience is nothing more than a relic of 60s-era professorial activism, let me point out NYU Law has a highly regarded tax clinic and business transactions clinic.
NYU Law is not state-funded, so we’re fortunate not to have to worry about harassment from the state legislature. But for the sake of my peers in public law schools, I hope that lawmakers will be less chicken when facing such brazen behavior.