Integrating Public Service Into Nonclinical Courses
The Law Teacher, Volume 9, number 1 (Fall 2001), p. 13-14.
About the Author
Russell Engler teaches at New England School of Law, 154 Stuart Street, Boston, MA 02116, (617) 422-7380; fax (617) 422-7385; rengler [at] fac.nesl.edu
At New England School of Law in Boston, faculty members have begun to experiment with incorporating public service legal work into the classroom. In each instance, nonclinical faculty members have collaborated with practicing lawyers engaged in public service legal work. The faculty and lawyers have identified research and writing issues within the subject area of the course. Instructors have then assigned students to complete projects related to those issues.
I describe below some of the projects that have been undertaken by my colleagues. Although we are early in our experimentation with this model, a number of benefits are already evident. First, the projects provide interesting topics that have helped our students both understand the subject matter of the course and develop their research and writing skills. Second, we have provided our students with an opportunity to perform public service legal work. Third, the structure has allowed us to engage in collaborative projects with lawyers outside the academy. Fourth, the endeavors have made our teaching more fulfilling. Our classes are engaged in exciting projects, and collaboration among faculty members has increased as we have shared common challenges emerging from our efforts to integrate theory and practice.
Description of Projects
Peter Manus has experimented with this model twice in his Environmental Justice seminar. Manus and his students took on various projects on behalf of several federal, state, and public interest law offices working in the environmental justice area. For example, the class produced one memorandum that evaluated various state environmental justice policies and bills and offered a detailed analysis of how elements of such policies and bills might function in relation to existing Massachusetts environmental regulations. The memorandum culminated with sample language for an environmental justice statute or its implementing regulations.
David Siegel has incorporated legal projects into his seminar on Mental Health Issues in Criminal Proceedings, offered for the first time in the spring 2001 semester. In his seminar, Siegel identified projects involving unsettled areas of law. Students ranked their top three preferences and sorted themselves into groups of two to five. Two groups worked with a senior lawyer in the local public defender's office, who oversees the office's mental health-related litigation. One group researched competency issues in probation surrender hearings, which are garden-variety litigation for public defenders but concerning which there is very little "law." Another group explored procedural issues that will arise in the implementation of a new sex-offender commitment statute. A third group worked with a professor of law in psychiatry at a medical school's postgraduate program in law and psychiatry, conducting a nationwide study of the use of actuarial instruments to predict dangerousness. A fourth group worked with a retired state court judge to study programs that teach police officers to recognize and divert mentally ill persons from the criminal justice system. This group conducted factual research on the existence of such programs and legal research on the degree to which they could be implemented locally and then prepared a grant application to create such programs.
Judi Greenberg also experimented with the model in the spring 2001 semester in her Domestic Violence course. Greenberg collaborated with two Boston lawyers, one of whom is a New England graduate, to develop projects for her course. One project related to the interface between protective orders and schools, while another dealt with batterers' misuse of the courts.
Why New England Adopted This Model
A number of factors have contributed to the advent of this teaching model at New England at this time. First, the faculty recently established our Center for Law and Social Responsibility (CLSR), designed in part to support faculty teaching, scholarship, pro bono projects, and other activities that focus on unequal access to, or treatment under, the law. All four of us are affiliated with the CLSR and working with the CLSR's support. Nine other faculty members are affiliated with the CLSR, some of whom are considering engaging in classroom projects similar to the ones discussed here. (For more information about the CLSR, go to www.nesl.edu/csr.)
Second, the faculty members teaching seminars have engaged in pro bono legal work while at New England. Manus has engaged in research and policy-focused projects to aid environmental groups. Siegel handles pro bono cases in the area of criminal law, including the case of an inmate seeking DNA testing of evidence in his case, to pursue his claim of wrongful conviction. Siegel also helped develop the New England Innocence Project. Greenberg has performed volunteer work for Greater Boston Legal Services. Each faculty member remains dedicated not only to teaching, scholarship, and participation in law school governance, but also to performing work that benefits the profession and the public. (See ABA Standard 404.)
Third, New England has worked to break down barriers between classroom and clinical work, integrating both nonclinical faculty into the clinical courses and clinical faculty into classroom settings. The New England program involves full-time and part-time faculty, and clinical and non-clinical faculty, in a co-teaching model. The program even blends the in-house clinics and externship placements into hybrid clinical courses. All student work for course credit at New England occurs as part of existing clinical courses, under my direction as Clinical Director. The courses are organized by subject matter, each with its separate classroom component. Most courses are "clinical component courses," which are clinical courses appended to the underlying course of the same subject matter. Thus, in the semesters in which Manus teaches Environmental Law, he also co-teaches with me the Environmental Law Clinic. The Clinic brings together all students receiving course credit for Environmental Law internships in seminars designed to bridge the gap between the classroom Environmental Law course and the clinical work. When Greenberg teaches Family Law, we co-teach the Family Law Clinic, and when she teaches either Domestic Violence or Women and the Law, we co-teach the Domestic Violence Clinic. While nonclinical faculty members teach clinical courses, the other full-time clinical faculty, Ilene Klein and Barbara Oro, both teach more traditional classroom courses in addition to performing their duties as clinical teachers. (For more information about our clinical courses, go to www.nesl.edu/academics/clinics.cfm.)
Fourth, New England is attempting to increase public service work performed by its students. The new CLSR includes a Public Service Project, created to identify, support, and increase public service work among New England faculty, students, and alumni. Our initial picture of work by our students suggests that only a small number are engaged in volunteer, pro bono legal work during the school year. Yet, more students perform public service legal work for credit, which provides them with essential training and experience to enhance their future pro bono work. Between 60 and 70 students a year work in clinical placements in which the students represent indigent clients in civil or criminal cases. (For an exploration of the connection between representation of indigent litigants in clinics and a future orientation toward performing pro bono work, see http://www.nesl.edu/csr/service/probono.htm.) Another 40 students per year work at the school's Prison Outreach Project, teaching law to inmates as part of the work required of the students as staff members of the New England Journal of Criminal and Civil Confinement. Through the seminar courses described in this article, an additional 40 to 50 students are performing public service legal work, a figure that will grow as more instructors experiment with the model.
The new model therefore contributes to our school's efforts to break down the traditional dichotomy between theory and practice, and between classroom and clinic, while providing our students with public service legal work that enhances their understanding of their course work. This is not to suggest that all experiments with the new model have met with complete success. Manus concluded that the legal work had taken over one course to the point where students learned less of the theoretical underpinnings of the law than he considered optimal. In another class, the outside attorney was unable to commit the minimal amount of thought and time necessary to maintain a presence in the course, rendering the legal work little more than a "real-life simulation." In both those instances, however, the failure to achieve the desired balance did not render the course an overall failure. Students learned at least as much as they would have in a seminar involving guest speakers and issues from current cases. Even with its problems, the model offers the potential of giving students a vision of being lawyers who think beyond their cases to better serve their clients and their community.