Equal Justice from a New Perspective: The Need for a First-Year Clinical Course on Public Interest Mediation
21 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 10, 2010
This Article describes a clinical experiment in the first-year law school curriculum at Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School: Legal Problem Solving for Equal Justice and Community Service. The goal of the experimental course was to open the eyes of forty-two first-year law students to the reality that legal problem solving, in order to deliver on our nation's pledge of "liberty and justice for all," requires far more legal education than "thinking like a lawyer." My hope for the course, then, was that these first-year law students would see early in their legal training that equal justice is not simply the struggle to generate more volunteer hours from attorneys, but also the need to find new problem-solving strategies and methods to supplement the standard construction of "lawyer as public servant" - whether by pro bono legal services, public interest law practice, or alternative dispute resolution.
This Article is divided into sections that account for the students' clinical testing of the strengths and weaknesses of various lawyering methods in relation to truancy cases. Part II describes the students' experience with pro bono legal services. Part III discusses the pluses and minuses students discovered as they examined the role of mediation in solving truancy disputes in the second and third consultations. Part IV addresses the students' engagement in public interest law practice, in which the students saw the strength in selecting cases that would address the "big picture."
Each section of this Article also offers a critique informed by a new problem-solving skill dedicated to equal justice, Public Interest Mediation ("PIM"). PIM seeks to take what is best about pro bono legal services, but looks for ways to extend the benefit of pro bono services for one client to those juveniles who are "next in line" but who may not be fortunate enough to locate or receive affordable legal counsel. PIM takes advantage of opportunities to teach the public at large broader lessons that would improve the community's knowledge of the [Utah] Compulsory Attendance Law and, more specifically, the relationship of truancy to such anti-social behaviors as substance abuse, gang activity, juvenile delinquency, and the like.
This text builds on presentations I gave on Public Interest Mediation at the 2005 and 2006 Utah Council on Conflict Resolution Symposia.
Keywords: Clinical legal education, public interest mediation, juvenile justice system, truancy, community building, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University
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