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Clinics in the Spotlight

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A recent article about clinical legal education in a Yale Law School magazine graphically demonstrates the degree to which the clinics at NYU School of Law are setting the standard for pedagogical excellence and innovation in the field of clinical legal education. The magazine, Legal Affairs, launched by Yale Law School in March 2002 to examine legal issues in the context of politics, culture, and society, featured an article on clinical legal education in its November/December 2002 issue. Strikingly, the article, from beginning to end, focuses heavily on the courses and faculty of the clinical program at NYU School of Law.

The article, by Daphne Eviatar, is titled “Clinical Anxiety: Rebellious Lawyers are Shaking Up Law School Clinics.” The title is derived from the writings and teaching of NYU School of Law Professor Gerald López. As the article explains:

If the [clinical legal education movement’s] visionary of old was Harvard’s Gary Bellow, today’s prophet is Gerald López. In 1992, while teaching at Stanford, López wrote Rebellious Lawyering: One Chicano’s Vision of Progressive Law Practice.

López argued that the traditional legal-services model does a disservice to the very groups it is trying to help by squelching community activism. By assuming the roles of “preeminent problem-solver” and “political hero,” lawyers exclude clients from shaping solutions to their problems and narrow those solutions to what courts can provide. Widely recognized, the book has inspired a body of scholarship building on López’s theories and an annual student-run “Rebellious Lawyering” conference at Yale Law School.

The article describes the community outreach and organizing clinic that López currently teaches at NYU School of Law and also the community research project in which he is currently engaged:

López’s view of good training is expansive. This summer, about 80 volunteers, mostly college students, worked for him for free, conducting a telephone survey of 2,000 people in low-income communities, asking them about their problems and how they’re trying to solve them. He sends his law students into innercity neighborhoods to interview social service organizations to find out what they’re doing to help. “As activists, we should have been doing this all along,” he said, claiming that studies like his are essential for lawyers who work with poor people. “This is second nature to management and business schools.”

López’s clinic is not the only clinic at NYU School of Law profiled in the article. The article begins with a detailed description of the work of NYU School of Law Professor Michael Wishnie in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, which Wishnie created with NYU School of Law Professor Nancy Morawetz:

When Mike Wishnie, a New York University law professor, heard that immigrants seriously injured in factory jobs were waiting up to ten years for their workers’ compensation benefits, he considered how he could help. He and the students in his immigrants’ rights clinic could represent each worker individually, but that wouldn’t solve the underlying problem. They could represent a group of workers against the state in federal court, but that would mean long and complicated litigation. They could lobby to change the law (which some students eventually did), but that might not help workers who’d already been hurt.

Then Wishnie hit upon another idea: Under a little-used side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the clinic could file a claim against New York for failing to enforce its labor laws. Although a NAFTA petition would take far longer than one to a local court, it would be the first such claim against a U.S. state — a good way to call attention to the case and boost organizing efforts by local community groups.

Last fall, a teaching fellow from the clinic flew to Mexico City along with two workers and representatives of four different community groups. They filed a petition and held a press conference on the steps of the National Administrative Office of Mexico. Back in New York, the community groups followed with a boisterous demonstration, spawning a flurry of newspaper articles about their novel claim.

As the article explains, the NYU School of Law clinics taught by López, Morawetz, and Wishnie reflect a new vision of lawyering that embraces a broad definition of the mission and role of the lawyer. Quoting Randy Hertz, director of the clinical program at NYU School of Law, the article explains:

“Our definition of lawyering skills has broadened,” said Randy Hertz. “Now, to be an effective public-interest lawyer, you need to have legislative drafting and organizing skills and know how to use the media.” Though Hertz admits that most public interest lawyers outside the academy still don’t approach their work in that way, he hopes recent graduates will take what they’ve learned into the field.

“In some places, that’s happening,” the article explains. The example it gives is the program “Make the Road by Walking,” a community organization in Bushwick which, as the article explains, was started by NYU School of Law alumni “Oona Chaterjee and Andrew Friedman … when they were students in NYU’s public policy clinic,” largely due to the inspiration of “books like [López’s] Rebellious Lawyering.”

The article also traces the current vision of clinical legal education to a 1992 ABA Report by the Task Force on Law Schools and “Profession: Narrowing the Gap” (commonly known as the “MacCrate Report,” after task force chair Robert MacCrate), which had as its centerpiece a comprehensive model of lawyering skills and professional values developed by Hertz and Anthony Amsterdam, NYU School of Law professor and former clinic director.

The article discusses how changes in clinical teaching have paralleled changes in the professional background of clinical teachers. Using Wishnie as a prototypical example, the article explains:

Wishnie is part of a new breed [of clinical teacher]. He was hired a few years out of law school following a Supreme Court clerkship and two prestigious fellowships, and he and others like him are blurring the old distinctions between “academic” faculty who write and teach about the theory of law and “clinicians” who devote themselves to its practice. Increasingly, clinical professors, after years of lobbying for equal status in the legal academy, are joining the tenure track. That means that in addition to supervising students and their cases, they’re expected to publish academic articles. Wishnie has devoted himself to exploring theories of immigrants’ constitutional rights. Others have created a new genre of academic writing focused on clinical pedagogy and lawyer-client relationships.

The article recognizes the contribution that NYU School of Law made to the enterprise of clinical scholarship in 1994 by joining with the Association of American Law Schools and the Clinical Legal Education Association to create the Clinical Law Review, a journal “edited by clinical professors,” for which Hertz serves as editor-in-chief. As the article explains, “[t]he Clinical Law Review has dramatically increased the amount of clinic-generated scholarship.”

The accomplishments identified in the Yale Law School magazine article are representative, but certainly not a full picture, of the many ways in which NYU School of Law clinical faculty are influencing the field of clinical legal education and the legal profession itself. Working in close collaboration with the teachers of the first-year Lawyering Program, the clinical faculty strives to improve what is already the country’s most dynamic interdisciplinary approach to training lawyers as problem solvers. Together they aim — through their teaching, research, and the work they do with clients and in communities — to illuminate what lawyers do and how they might do it better. Their field of interest encompasses the ever-evolving world of legal problem-solving. Across civil and criminal boundaries, clinical faculty are involved with such diverse matters as litigation, legislative advocacy, policy-making, business transactions, community education campaigns, institutional and programmatic evaluations, systems design, and management.

Clinicians at NYU School of Law have taken an active role in national organizations concerned with legal education. For example, Paula Galowitz serves on the board of directors of the Clinical Legal Education Association; Randy Hertz serves on the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar; and Holly Maguigan is the co-president of the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT). Law School clinicians have similarly assumed leadership positions in public interest law organizations. For example, Claudia Angelos serves as the president of the board of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The successes of clinicians at NYU School of Law in the fields of clinical legal education and public interest have resulted in many awards. Most recently, SALT recognized Professor Bryan Stevenson’s great achievements in the capital punishment field by giving him the organization’s Human Rights Award, and the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in August 2002 gave Professor Anthony Amsterdam the Robert J. Kutak Award for the most significant contributions to bringing together the legal academy and the practicing bar.