The Clinic Effect

52 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2009 Last revised: 13 Dec 2012

See all articles by Rebecca L. Sandefur

Rebecca L. Sandefur

American Bar Foundation; Arizona State University

Jeffrey Selbin

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law


Lawyers, law professors and experts on professional education perennially proclaim that law schools teach students to think like lawyers but not to act like them. Legal education’s emphasis in the cognitive dimension comes at the expense of critical professional development in the skills (expertise) and civic (identity) dimensions. Clinical legal education has long been prescribed as a pedagogic corrective to these perceived deficits in law school training, but little research exists to inform our understanding of whether - much less how, when, why and for whom - clinics deliver on this promise.

With data from a new, nationally representative survey of early-career attorneys in the United States, this article explores evidence of clinical education’s impact in the skills and civic dimensions of lawyer training. In the skills dimension, new lawyers rate clinical training more highly for making the transition to the actual practice of law than many other law school experiences, particularly the doctrinal core frequently the object of the standard critique. In the civic dimension, the study finds no evidence of a relationship between clinical training experiences and new lawyers’ pro bono service, and no consistent evidence of a relationship between clinical training experiences and new lawyers’ civic participation. Although there is no evidence of a general relationship between clinical training experiences and public service employment, the study finds a strong relationship between clinical training and career choice for those young attorneys who recall that they came into law hoping to improve society or help individuals. For this group of new lawyers, clinical training may have been an important factor in sustaining or accelerating their original civic commitments.

As a result of these findings and the continued dearth of data on these important questions, the article concludes with a call for a new generation of research into the effects of clinical legal education on the preparation of students for the practice and profession of law.

Keywords: Clinical legal education, pro bono, civic participation, public service

Suggested Citation

Sandefur, Rebecca L. and Selbin, Jeffrey, The Clinic Effect. Clinical Law Review, Vol. 16, p. 57, 2009, NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 09/10 #8, UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1498844, Available at SSRN:

Rebecca L. Sandefur

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Arizona State University ( email )

Tempe, AZ 85287
United States

Jeffrey Selbin (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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