Academic journal article Boston College Journal of Law & Social Justice

Losing My Religion: The Place of Social Justice in Clinical Legal Education

Academic journal article Boston College Journal of Law & Social Justice

Losing My Religion: The Place of Social Justice in Clinical Legal Education

Article excerpt

Abstract: Many law school clinics presume a "social justice" mission-that is, representation of the indigent and under-represented about poverty law issues-as the only legitimate goal for clinic clients and matters. This Article contends that social justice should not be presumed, but rather should be considered an option-among many-to include in a clinic's pedagogy. If increased experiential learning opportunities for students are a real objective, and clinics are the pinnacle of those opportunities, then broadening the portfolio of clinical offerings to include those that are not focused on social justice should be a valid proposition. The modern clinical legal education movement that began with Ford Foundationfunded clinics has moved from the fringe to the center of legal education. This Article urges that it is incumbent on the leaders of those clinical programs to accommodate different models of clinics, thereby expanding clinical education to more students and unleashing the next phase of innovation and creativity in law school education.

INTRODUCTION

Many of today's clinical law faculty members presume that "social justice" should be a fundamental characteristic of any clinical offering.1 In fact, if you attend a clinical conference, you will hear clinicians proudly extol the social good their clinics do and the audience dutifully applaud this ideology. Rarely, if ever, will you hear any comment about a clinic that does not at least presume social justice.2 This is understandable on many levels. First, no one wants to be perceived as against "doing good" or helping the underprivileged. Second, the audiences at these conferences tend to be peers of the speakers doing the extolling and themselves conduct similar work. To criticize the social justice component of that work would be anathema, not to mention selfdefeating. Social justice, after all, is what the modern clinical movement is based on, and clinicians who criticize that concept would be biting the hand that feeds them.

Without the influx of civil rights and poverty law lawyers into law schools during the late 1960s and 1970s, clinical legal education as we know it would not exist.3 Those lawyers became the founders of modern clinical education. When they entered the academy, not every law school in the country had a clinical program.4 There were no Association of American Law Schools (AALS) standards for clinical education. 5 The national clinical conferences that now draw hundreds of clinicians every year were the size of a couple of schools' clinical faculties today.6 To think about how far clinical legal education has come in forty years is truly a marvel. Much of the credit for that growth and stature goes to the founders and their progeny-a group Professor Stephen Reed has labeled the "Great Clinicians"-who fought for and built the programs from which all clinicians benefit.7 Social justice was a central tenet to the modern clinical movement.8 The Great Clinicians brought their fight for civil rights and access to justice from the streets into law schools.9 Initially they continued to do the same type of work they did in practice but with the assistance of law students, rarely thinking about teaching.10 In time, however, the Great Clinicians developed a pedagogy that allowed students to learn more from a clinical experience than they would from simply working at a job.11 Central to that pedagogy were moral lessons about economic disparity, unequal access to the judicial system, and uneven application of laws.12 Clinicians ultimately framed the pedagogy as "client-centered" lawyering, requiring preparation, performance, and reflection.13 The Great Clinicians defined social justice, chose the types of cases their clinics would take, and chose the lessons they would impart to students.14 Those choices conscribed future clinicians who would enter clinical teaching under their tutelage.15 Over the decades, representing the underserved and subordinated operated as the anchor for clinical legal education, almost religiously. …

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