William Mitchell Law Review

Publication Information

30 William Mitchell Law Review 87 (2003-2004)


William Mitchell College of Law is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Law Clinic. As a beneficiary of clinical legal education at William Mitchell, I write this essay to reflect on the value of clinical legal education to law students, to the clients served, and to the community at large. In my view, clinical legal education is timeless--as valuable to law students today as it was thirty years ago when William Mitchell started its first clinic. Although many things combine to make clinical education valuable, three aspects are particularly noteworthy. First, clinics give law students the chance to represent clients under supervision, creating an opportunity for experiential learning. This kind of learning is a particularly effective teaching methodology for adult learners because it allows those students to draw on broad, diverse bases of knowledge and apply that knowledge as they develop legal skills and shape their legal careers. Second, the opportunity to represent clients in the clinic makes law school relevant for students. Generally, clinic clients cannot afford to pay for legal services. In focusing on the legal needs of low-income clients, students learn through direct experience that the law can be--and should be-- accessible to everyone regardless of income. This message is particularly meaningful to students from low-income backgrounds because they feel more included in the law school when they see persons like members of their family or community receiving legal services in the clinic. Finally, the transformative experience of helping clients solve legal problems allows students to realize concretely the value of their legal education. Clinic experiences reveal that law school is about more than grades, law review, and class rank--it is also about becoming a good listener, a healer, a peacemaker, a problem solver. While each law student will not be ranked number one in the class, students working in clinics can all be ranked number one by their clients. They can all excel as student attorneys and be empowered by the realization of the good they can do for others. This is a healing antidote to the problem of depression and alienation facing law students and lawyers. The community benefits from the representation of the underserved by law students in clinics and by law school graduates who carry on the clinic tradition in providing pro bono services. Students who take clinics have the chance to develop the empathy and skills necessary to develop an effective pro bono practice after graduating from law school. They learn it is good for the soul to use their skills to help those in need, and at the same time provide a valuable service to their communities.