The Tulane Criminal Law Clinic: An Evolution into a Combined Individual Client and Advocacy Clinic

Clinical Law Review, Vol. 18, p. 77, 2011

Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 12-1

25 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2012

Date Written: October 11, 2011


This article describes the evolution of the Tulane Criminal Law Clinic from a clinic focused on the more traditional “one client, one case” model of clinical education to its current form which combines individual client representation with systemic advocacy. This evolution began after the clinic found it hard to ignore the community impact of our success in challenging the constitutionality of a statute dealing with defendants who were found permanently incompetent to stand trial. The evolution was accelerated after the Tulane Criminal Law Clinic, along with the Loyola Criminal Law Clinic, was appointed to represent all of the inmates of Orleans Parish Prison after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the public defender system and left thousands of incarcerated defendants unrepresented. The courthouse had been flooded and closed, the evidence room had been flooded and closed; there were no court records available, the police department was in chaos, there was no functioning mechanism to serve subpoenas, witnesses had scattered. Individual case litigation was not an option. We had to develop non-litigation approaches in order to advocate for our clients. Our post-Katrina experience underscored the need for clinical pedagogy to include a broad range of strategies in addition to litigation in order to be effective. As the criminal justice institutions began to function again, the clinic used some of these newly developed non-litigation advocacy skills – legislative advocacy, collaboration with other lawyers, community education, and more to improve the treatment of defendants who had been found incompetent to stand trial. We learned that expanding our clinical practice beyond individual client litigation provides our students with the opportunity to broaden their problem solving skills and to develop a full range of advocacy tools. Those skills help not only to effectively achieve the goals of our clients but to achieve systemic changes. Those systemic changes help our clients as they interface with the same system in the future and relieve similarly situated members of the community. Thus, Katrina brought into focus challenges we were only beginning to uncover prior to her impact and taught us the value, indeed the necessity, of broadly interpreting the advocacy and skills lawyers must develop.

Keywords: Legal Education, Legal Clinic, Clinical Legal Education

Suggested Citation

Mattes, Katherine Maris, The Tulane Criminal Law Clinic: An Evolution into a Combined Individual Client and Advocacy Clinic (October 11, 2011). Clinical Law Review, Vol. 18, p. 77, 2011, Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 12-1, Available at SSRN:

Katherine Maris Mattes (Contact Author)

Tulane Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
504-865-5155 (Phone)

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