Harvard Law Bulletin, Winter 1994

"Clinical Education at HLS"


Written and edited by Nancy Waring

"The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience." Ė Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1866

Real Clients, Real Cases

The Bulletin interviewed Gary Bellow, who became professor at the School and faculty director of the Clinical Program in 7972. A nationally renowned practitioner, Bellow has spent his career advocating for the poor

Bulletin: What is clinical education?

Gary Bellow: As developed at Harvard, clinical education is a method of teaching law in practical contexts. The goal is for students to examine assumptions and values about the legal profession and law practice. Clinical education develops lawyering and learning skills while critically examining law practice itself. For example, a Family Law course may devote one or two sessions to domestic violence. That cannot prepare students for the complex web of formal and informal systems that confront a woman who has been beaten. The clinic adds that dimension. Similarly, Professional Responsibility courses come to life when a studentís own values conflict with the legitimate goals of her client. At Harvard the classroom and the clinic are inextricably tied. Doctrine and experience enrich each other.

Clinical education has existed at HLS for 20 years, yet some people consider it quite novel What distinguishes it from other modes of education?

Harvardís clinical program began in the early 1970s and has grown in size and sophistication under three deans. In the history of this law school, 20 years is a blink of the eye.

In some ways, however, the method is quite old. After all, Langdellís innovative use of appellate cases as the subject matter of classroom inquiry is much more "clinical" than the lecture and seminar methods still employed elsewhere in the University. We have built on the case method tradition to make law practice and lawyerly judgment the focus of analysis and discussion.

How does Harvardís program differ from those at other schools?

I think the primary differences are the size of our program and its emphasis on interactions with clients. This is often described as "live client" experience by clinicians.

Most schools offer such experiences to a relatively small number of students, supervised by a limited number of clinical faculty. The Harvard model ó as it has come to be called ó combines courses and placements at three Harvard-run clinics, a number of student practice organizations, and a variety of outside agencies, using a combination of faculty and full- and part-time staff.

Last year 400 students in over 20 courses participated in such practice-based education. By the time they graduate, approximately 6o percent of the student body will have taken one such course ó many more if we include courses using clinical methodologies such as simulation, role playing, and computer-aided education.

Can you say more about the range of clinical placements available to students?

Most placements are at the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, which is very similar to a medical school teaching hospital. The School also runs an immigration and asylum clinic located at Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services, and our 8o-year-old Legal Aid Bureau delivers civil legal services. On campus, the new Criminal Justice Institute provides

services in the criminal law area. Off campus, we contract with governmental agencies and public interest organizations that provide institutional experiences that cannot be replicated at a school. Our five extracurricular student practice organizations are the Legal Aid Bureau, the Harvard Defenders, the Tenant Advocacy Project, the Prison Legal Assistance Project, and the Mediation Program.

We believe that every student would benefit from practice-based instruction and that careful mentoring of course-focused student practice in teaching hospital type settings most effectively allows students to grow and learn. Our experience has again and again confirmed these premises.

You have twice mentioned an analogy to teaching hospitals. Why?

Like a medical school, clinical education at HLS relies on a number of teachers with different roles to fulfill its educational mission. This requires staffing patterns unlike those found in most law schools. The full-time faculty who engage in research while designing, controlling, and operating the

academic and clinical curriculum are like academic faculty at medical schools. Lecturers with particular academic and practice skills are also necessary, much as a medical school relies on an adjunct faculty.

In addition, we employ full-time and 12 part-time clinical instructors. Although they have a substantial case load and institutional responsibilities throughout the year, they devote a major portion of their time during the academic year to the supervision and education of students. Their instructor and practitioner roles mix, much like those of the hundreds or even thousands of practicing physicians who act as preceptors at hospitals and other institutions affiliated with a medical school.

Wouldnít students learn to practice after graduation anyway?

The answer is, of course, yes. Most students will, on their own, become functioning practitioners. The question, however, is whether they will become reflective, self-teaching, self-demanding practitioners. Instruction after graduation is uneven in quality, often simply consisting of doing it "the way weíve always done it here?í This problem, by the way, cuts across all areas of practice. Although the reasons may differ, neither large law firms nor legal services offices train their new lawyers to reflect on the practice of law. The recent ABA Task Force report on Law Schools and the Profession (the McCrate Report) recognizes that the bar must take its educational responsibilities more seriously.

I donít believe, however, that this can be done without a good deal of practice-related education in law school, akin to the research and theory building found in clinical instruction in medicine, engineering, architecture, and business.

An expanding partnership between the practicing lawyer and the law teacher has enormous educational and research possibilities.

What is your reaction to mandatory pro bono in law school?

I think all lawyers have an obligation to make the legal system more accessible to those who cannot afford a lawyer. We also have the responsibility to communicate this to our students, along with the obvious message that the legal system does not serve all people equally. For these reasons, Iíve generally supported pro bono requirements by law schools. I do think, however, that studentsí sense of commitment to indigent clients is best developed and nurtured by a serious educational program. The service to thousands of poor people that grows out of our clinical courses bears witness to this commitment and adds to the ability, and willingness, of our students to do pro bono work after graduation.

The opportunity to explore, discuss, and question this experience adds to its depth and richness. My sense is that it helps pro bono commitments become, after graduation, not just good work, but part of what it means to be lawyers. I tend, therefore, to favor proposals that link pro bono obligations and clinical instruction.

Has all of this affected the relationship between the School and the practicing bar?

It seems to me that we are at the beginning of a new era of cooperation and interchange between the academy and the bar that may bring practical insight and knowledge to law study. It has already begun to change what law professors are teaching and writing.

Clinical education draws practitioners into the educational enterprise and demands of its students and teachers deep knowledge and searching insight into the way law actually works. This has already generated cooperative undertakings between our clinics and law firms. Hale and Dorr, for example, earmarked its S2 million contribution to the Schoolís capital campaign for our new Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center building. We are also forming an alliance with them for joint training of their attorneys and the staff at the Center. Thereís much to be gained from a deepening of these trends.

The Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center

The Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center is the largest legal teaching clinic in the country. Under the direction of Jeanne Charn Ď70, a full-time staff of 19 attorneys and paralegals supervise studentsí work while carrying their own case loads. The Center has the capacity for 150 students a year, who may be placed through such courses as AIDS and the Law; Family Law; Housing Law and Policy; Introduction to Advocacy, Civil; Legal Services for Poor People; and Poverty Law: Politics, Policies, and Practices.

Students as Advocates

Debra Dickerson Ď95

"Iím doing the work that associates often donít get to do for three or four years in a law firm," says Debra Dickerson, one of some dozen HLS students who began working 20 hours a week in the Centerís Housing Work Group after completing the Trial Advocacy Workshop last fall. "This semester I am going to be second seat on a case with multiple claims."

Most of Dickersonís cases begin as eviction matters, she says. "Usually a tenant is being retaliated against by a landlord for complaints of overcharging and poor conditions. We go check out the conditions, find they violate state law, and counterclaim. The landlords become the defendants.

"The best part of this work is helping to empower people who are absolutely amazed to find out they have rights. Some of these people have been horribly abused, and itís gratifying to turn the tables and show landlords they canít just ride roughshod over people?í
 
 

James McNasby Ď94

After taking Visiting Professor David Chambersís AIDS and the Law course last year, James McNasby, and about 15 other Harvard Law School students, began working in the Centerís AIDS Law clinic. "Establishing a relationship with clients who are at the end of their lives is an enormous challenge," says McNasby. "One of the most memorable experiences is creating emergency documents for people in hospices who need wills or living wills in the last few days of their lives?í

"Working with a real client makes you want to act like an advocate. Someoneís livelihood depends on you. This is very different from arguing abstract situations in class. I think everyone should take a clinical course before graduating. It grounds your whole academic experience," says McNasby, who will clerk for the chief judge of the District of Rhode Island before becoming an associate at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo in Boston.