Spotlight on Sections: Section on Clinical Legal Education

Spotlight on Sections: Section on Clinical Legal Education

 

By Kathryn Fanlund

 
Sections are central to the AALS mission of advancing excellence in legal education. AALS launched “Spotlight on Sections” in the previous issue of AALS News to highlight the various ways these groups help connect law school faculty and staff on topics of shared interest.
 
There are currently 100 AALS sections, each focused on a different academic discipline, affinity group, or administrative area. No matter the interests of faculty members, an AALS section is likely to fit their needs. For a full list of AALS sections and how to join, please visit www.aals.org/services/sections.
 
For this edition of “Spotlight on Sections,” AALS talked with the leaders of the Section on Clinical Legal Education to discuss their activities and what they have planned for the AALS Annual Meeting.
 

AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education

 

Rathod_AALSNov15
Jayesh Rathod,
American University
Washington College of Law
(Chair)

 

Eduardo R. Capulong, Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana (Co-Chair Elect)

Eduardo R. Capulong,
Alexander Blewett III School of Law
University of Montana
(Co-Chair Elect)

 

Christine N. Cimini, Vermont Law School (Co-Chair Elect)

Christine N. Cimini,
Vermont Law School
(Co-Chair Elect)

 
What motivated you to become involved in leading the Section on Clinical Legal Education?
 
Jayesh Rathod: I love being part of a community of clinical law teachers. Serving as Chair allowed me to be involved in the leadership of a section that supports a community of colleagues who are incredibly generous, creative, and hard-working.
 
Beyond that, part of what interested me is the growing importance of experiential education within the academy and knowing that clinical law teachers’ experiences and perspectives are important to share. This is true not only amongst ourselves, but within legal education. As law teachers, we have a lot in common, but clinical law teachers also have a unique position in the law school. There is a particular set of needs and challenges that clinical law teachers face, and I was eager to bring attention to those to make sure that they are addressed.
 
Christine Cimini: Legal educators are in the midst of re-envisioning what we do and how we do it. Clinical legal education plays an important role in this exploration. The section is made up of a wide and diverse group of faculty members, and it is essential to make sure that their voices are heard in this discussion. Being a part of that endeavor, with great colleagues, is a wonderful challenge that motivates my work.
 
Eduardo Capulong: Since graduating from law school, I’ve seen how essential it is to train law students clinically. Getting involved in the section’s leadership seemed like a natural step for me now that I’m a law teacher. It is an exciting time for the section, given the curriculum reform movement, interest in experiential education, and other changes in the academy and profession. I’m looking forward to working with colleagues on drawing on our rich tradition to inform these important discussions.
 
What are the important conversations currently taking place around clinical legal education?
 
JR: Every law school is talking about experiential education; it is one of the current buzz words in legal education. Clinical teachers are uniquely positioned to identify and to assist in implementing this type of education across the curriculum. Experiential education is what we do, it is what clinical law teachers have been doing for decades. As it becomes more mainstream and as we think about different ways to engage in experiential learning, clinical law teachers have a rich well of experience to drawn upon. Not only best practices, but things that did not work well or challenges that we can anticipate.
 
Another challenge that we’re thinking about is the impact of the economic stagnation and its corresponding effect on legal education. As a clinical educator and as chair of the section, I’m concerned about what this means for the security of clinical programs within law schools and what role clinical teachers can have in communicating legal education’s value. As prospective students express concern over questions of value, perhaps we need to have an ever greater role in terms of selling the value of legal education, given the practical importance of clinical education. We are working to ensure that clinical legal education is engaged in those conversations and is not automatically positioned as the expensive, and therefore expendable, part of the curriculum.
 
Our program at the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting is focused on assessing the value of clinical legal education. In casual conversations, people often talk about how expensive clinical legal education is, but I think that needs to be interrogated a little bit more. There is some interesting research on what the actual costs associated with clinical education are. I also think we need to be thinking broadly about the different benefits that flow from clinical programs.
 
CC: There are many conversations about the importance of experiential education and many corollary conversations about how to do that well—especially how can we effectively integrate clinical and non-clinical faculty in ways that will provide a better educational experience. The value/cost issue is also an ongoing part of the conversation. I would add that schools are talking about outcomes and assessments as part of the recent ABA accreditation standards, and this is an issue on which clinical faculty can provide meaningful leadership and insight.
 
EC: I’m particularly excited about the innovations in experiential education that have begun to flourish and how schools are integrating the knowledge, skills, and values our students need to learn. I’d like to see schools bolster traditional clinical offerings and extend the reach of clinical and experiential methodologies into the first and second years.
 
Professor Rathod, you mentioned the “Examining the Value of Clinical Education: Thinking Beyond Cost” panel planned for the AALS Annual Meeting. Can you talk about how this program came about?
 
JR: This program came about as a result of the conversations we’ve had, from the current discourse within legal education more broadly and seeing things that are happening at different institutions. There has been a productive exchange of views about how law schools can cut costs in an era of declining enrollment, which I think is absolutely a legitimate conversation that law schools are having.
 

Jayesh Rathod, American University, Washington College of Law

Jayesh Rathod, American University, Washington College of Law, presents the M. Shanara Gilbert Award at the 2015 AALS Clinical Conference.

 
This program was conceived in response to a common narrative that it is easiest for schools to simply cut the most expensive thing and an assumption that clinical education is always that. We want to explore whether clinical education is in fact the most expensive. What kind of value is it providing to the institution? That question can get lost if we only consider student-faculty ratios. That type of analysis obviously does not capture the full value that clinical teachers provide, not only to students, but also more broadly to the institution and to the community. Clinical education also impacts a school’s ability to attract students.
 
The section is also hosting a luncheon at the AALS Annual Meeting. What can you tell me about that event?
 
JR: Typically during our luncheon we award the William Pincus Award. Right now we are in the process of soliciting nominations for the award. It recognizes someone who has made a significant contribution to clinical legal education, typically individuals further along in their career. For lack of a better term, it is a kind of lifetime achievement award, although certainly not one signaling retirement as many of the recipients are still active in legal education.
 
Additionally, the section combines the luncheon with the business meeting and formally votes in our new officers. Section members who attend get a chance to meet the new leadership at the luncheon and have some back and forth with them. It is also an opportunity to recognize the outgoing leadership.
Do you have advice for clinical faculty who would like to connect with the section and their counterparts at other law schools?
 
Do you have advice for clinical faculty who would like to connect with the section and their counterparts at other law schools?
 
JR: here are a number of things that I think are worth mentioning about the work that we do. Exploring issues relating to the importance of clinical legal education is only part of it. A lot of what we are doing in the section is purely about professional development for clinicians. We have a mentor program for pairing newer clinicians with more experienced faculty members. The section occasionally hosts webinars where we talk about different approaches to clinical teaching and other topics of interest. We also have a document that we are preparing for our members called the Clinicians Desk Reference. This will lay out the basics on what clinical legal education is, what the section does, and what some of the main entities and listservs are for. It is meant to be a helpful guide for folks who are newer to law teaching or to clinical education. This is something that we are going to be rolling out soon.
 
We have so many different committees within the section and all of them are doing great things. We have a membership committee, which does some of the mentoring piece, and a technology committee that works on sharing information with the membership around technology and legal pedagogy. We also have a policy committee that looks at the different issues that are affecting clinicians. The section membership is large, active, and engaged. We are always looking for more people to become involved with the section. I also suggest attending regional conferences which provide other spaces where clinicians can get together and talk about shared concerns.
 
If clinicians are interested in joining a committee, they can absolutely contact me (jrathod@wcl.american.edu) or any of the other officers and we can connect them to a committee that would best match their interests.
 
CC: The first piece of advice I would offer for people wanting to get involved is to try and get to the annual AALS Clinical Conference. This is a wonderful way to meet other clinicians and learn about what is going on in the field. For those who do not have the resources to get to the national clinical conference, we support regional conferences all over the country. This is a great way to get connected to faculty in your region and with a smaller group. It is a wonderful way to make meaningful connections in a short period of time. Another way to connect is to offer to serve on any of the Clinical Section committees. You will work with wonderful colleagues from other schools and get to know them well.
 
 
Read this month’s other Spotlight on Sections interview with the leadership of the Section on Federal Courts.