Clinical Legal Education and the Replication of Hierarchy

Clinical Law Review, Vol. 26, p. 287, 2019

Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 618

25 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2019

Date Written: October 22, 2019


Clinical legal education is now a significant and widely touted feature of every law schools’ curriculum. The 2008 recession, which resulted in fewer law jobs and fewer applicants, spurred law schools to beef up their experiential offerings, both in response to the call for “practice ready” graduates and to enhance law schools’ appeal to potential applicants. This essay explores two aspects of collateral damage that have resulted from the growth and institutionalization of clinical education. They both stem from the replication of hierarchies that have long existed in law school faculties and in the legal profession in general. First, the expansion of clinical offerings has not resulted in more clinical tenure-track positions—their number has steadily decreased. Instead, hiring has been largely through short-term fellowship, visitor or staff attorney appointments, or at best long-term contract eligible positions, without voting rights on the issues that shape the future of the institution—appointments and tenure. Thus, instead of increased integration of clinical education into the academy, a new underclass has been created within faculties, without job security or long-term academic prospects. Second, the growth of clinical education has not been consistent with its original programmatic goals of serving under-represented groups with critical legal needs. Instead, clinical education has succumbed to the popular demand for more “glamourous” practices settings, as seen by the huge growth of start-up, entrepreneurial and intellectual property clinics and the reduction in housing, government benefits and family law offerings. Thus, clinical education is replicating the legal practice hierarchies that leave poverty law at the bottom. This essay ends with recommendations to ensure that clinics are staffed in a non- exploitative manner that respects the career aspirations of junior colleagues and that clinical curricular decisions keep as a priority instilling the social justice values that have been the hallmark of clinical education.

Suggested Citation

Kotkin, Minna J., Clinical Legal Education and the Replication of Hierarchy (October 22, 2019). Clinical Law Review, Vol. 26, p. 287, 2019, Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 618, Available at SSRN: or

Minna J. Kotkin (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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