The Death of a Clinic
26 CLINICAL LAW REVIEW 99 (Fall 2019).
18 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2019 Last revised: 24 Sep 2019
Date Written: August 4, 2019
After years of expansion nationally, an alarming number of law school clinics have been shuttered in recent years. Some of these closings are due to deaths or retirements, while others have resulted from institutional decisions following the precipitous drop in enrollment from 2011 to 2017 or the loss of grant funding for externally-funded clinics. Still others may be clinics that have low enrollment or may have run their natural course. In many cases, the political forces surrounding the decision to close a clinic can be enormous and overwhelming. To further complicate a clinic closing, the ethical obligations are both complex and unclear. For example, who is responsible for the continuing representation of the clinic’s clients — the law school, other attorneys in the clinical law program, or the attorney who is leaving? Can the client representation be terminated? If so, by whom? If the dean asks for a list of client matters without identifying information in order to direct what should happen to the clients, are the clinical faculty obligated to provide the dean with that redacted information? How does one manage a dean who insists that they will take over the closure of the clinic if the clinic faculty do not handle the closing of the clinic, including the termination of client representation, in a manner that the dean agrees with? The political risks are potentially career-ending. To make things worse, the shame that one may feel being associated with a clinic that is closing may inhibit clinical faculty from discussing the challenges they are facing both inside and outside their institutions, which might prevent them from finding the answers and wisdom they need to navigate these perilous waters. This essay, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Clinical Law Review, calls for an article to take on the subject of clinic closings head on, examining the reasons and circumstances for the rise in recent closings, and highlighting the ethical and political landmines that those who are responsible for closing clinics need to avoid.
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