Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge of UCLA law school ponders the distinctly left-wing nature of law school clinics.
As someone in the mix, I can tell you that generally speaking, he’s right. The “social justice” movement is the heart of law school clinical education, and that almost always means liberal causes. It’s not uniformly true — one of the trends is to give assistance to business people not just inmates at Gitmo or fighting for free contraceptives for law students.
In the case of the clinic I run, we give assistance to (small time capitalist) investors. A Dean at another law school told me several years ago that his law school never could have an investor protection clinic because the faculty would not consider it “social justice” to help investors. That pretty much sums up the attitude.
My one dispute with Professor Bainbridge is the implication that it is worse for law school clinical professors than for the academic professors. I will suggest that law school clinics are a symptom, not the disease
From Professor Bainbridge:
For my many and manifold sins, I have been assigned to the law school’s appointment committee. I’m grateful for the assignment, since I figure St Peter will credit it against my stint in Purgatory. We’ve devoted much of the fall semester to possible clinical hiring, which has forced me to learn more than I wanted to know about clinical legal education.
The process prompts me to ask: What is the function of a legal clinic? Is it to train students, to provide legal services to constituencies who have limited access to lawyers, or to advance a left-liberal political agenda?
In particular, what model should law schools pursue in the current challenging employment environment faced by our graduates? It seems to me that our students would be best served by a model that trains them to use skills in mainstream, paying jobs. In doing so, we would respond to demand for skills training from both students and the bar.
Yet, most of the clinical professors whose work we have reviewed this semester have pursued a model of inculcating left-liberal political values in students and deploying those students to advance left-liberal political causes….
This model is troubling on several levels. First, it privileges a certain set of political views in the hiring process, contributing to the marginalization of conservative viewpoints among law faculty. Second, it inevitably will tend to exclude students of moderate or conservative viewpoints, who will either self-select out of clinical classes or be harassed out of it.
Third, cause lawyering is wholly unrelated to the work most of our students will do most of the time. as John McGinnis commented in his review of Walter Olson’s wonderful book Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America….
Fourth, at state schools such as ours, it often deploys taxpayer funds to advance fringe causes that may damage the state economy or antagonize important mainstream groups such as the business community….
Fifth, much clinical legal education really seems to be about limousine liberals assuaging their guilt for living lives of extreme comfort (law professor salaries put most of these folks in or near the evil 1%)….
I have no magic bullet for this problem. But the current crisis in legal employment may finally force law schools to start making economically rational decisions. If students, alumni, state legislators, and other relevant stakeholders start insisting on apolitical clincs that actually traing lawyers to do the work most of them will spend most of their careers doing, maybe progress will be made in divorcing the clinical movement from revolutionary movements. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
Does clinical legal education really have to be about left-liberal politics? (Professor Bainbridge)