Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review


Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review


Article excerpt


Notice posted by Dean Wigmore on the Law School's Bulletin Board, October 4, 1920, to students who had not fulfilled their legal clinic responsibilities:

Pursuant to the notice on the Board concerning the Legal Clinic, you are requested to show cause to me before Tuesday evening, October 5, why you have not reported for the course in Legal Clinic. Every member of the third year class must now report for assignment whether he takes it in the present semester or in the second semester. Those who have taken it during the summer must also show cause to this effect. If you do not report before Tuesday night, I shall have to refer your case to the next faculty meeting, in the meantime directing your suspension.1

Clinical education made its formal debut at Northwestern in 1919 when Dean John Henry Wigmore insisted that all students be exposed while in law school to the practical aspects of the practice of law. To facilitate this exposure, he entered a formal written agreement with United Charities of Chicago that allowed thirty law students to participate in the representation of the United Charities' clients.2 Even before that time-going as far back as 1899-Northwestern's law students had volunteered to staff the offices of Chicago's Legal Aid Society.3 Dean Wigmore was careful to document the students' work in the clinic course and to demonstrate to faculty and students the value of this work in teaching students practical skills and a sense of professional and social responsibility.4 He reasoned that law students should be prepared to practice upon graduation, and work in the clinic, Wigmore felt, achieved that goal.5 Further, to be leaders in the legal profession, Wigmore reasoned, his students needed to be sensitive to the needs of all segments of society, especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Work in the clinic exposed students to the legal problems of the poor and the disadvantaged. On this occasion, then, the celebration of the Northwestern University Law Review's centennial, it is more than fitting to document the history of the Law School's clinical programs, to recognize the role that the legal clinic has long played in educating members of Northwestern's legal community-students, practitioners, and academics alike-and to describe the contributions that our clinical programs have made to innovations in legal education and to justice reform.

II. THE EARLY YEARS, 1919-1941

Wigmore's papers, which document the establishment and development of Northwestern's clinical program from 1919 to the 1930s, reveal the Dean's remarkable commitment to teaching social justice by involving students firsthand in cases that reflected the social issues of the day.6 In reviewing those papers from the 1920s, Dean Wigmore's message is unmistakably clear: legal education must combine theory and practice equally, and teaching students how to practice is best accomplished when students are engaged in representing clients who suffer as a result of the defects in our legal system.

Dean Wigmore's letters also reveal a strong belief that it was necessary to create a cadre of lawyers who would professionally commit themselves full-time to legal aid work. He saw his clinical program-and the alliances it created between Northwestern and legal services providers-as a way of encouraging the bar to "professionalize" the delivery of legal services to the poor. He wrote:

One of the great concerns of legal aid work is to see to it that from now on there shall be constantly available for leadership a group of lawyers of the highest rank. The time will shortly arrive when a career as a legal aid attorney will be sought just as the law student now seeks a clerkship in a large law office, a position with a Trust Company or other institution, or endeavors to make his own way in the world. Only through legal clinics can we insure the permanence in Legal Aid work of the group of men who eventually must take up the task of furthering this great work. …

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