Paul L. Caron

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Clinical Legal Education And The Replication Of Hierarchy

Minna J. Kotkin (Brooklyn), Clinical Legal Education and the Replication of Hierarchy, 26 Clinical L. Rev. 287 (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.

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The article appears to assume that what is called “clinical legal education,” which is sometimes also termed “experiential learning,” must take place in a law school clinic, and that clinical education must be supervised by persons other than traditional or substantive law professors. But neither is true.

Students can “learn by doing” in law school programs and settings other than formal legal clinics, and the learning can be supervised not by specialized clinical instructors (by whatever title and of whatever rank), but rather by traditional law professors.

Indeed, there are many advantages to clinical law without clinics. See, e.g.,

The author also appears to assume that the original purpose or goal of law school legal clinics was exclusively "serving under-represented groups with critical legal needs,” and that "instilling the social justice values [] have been the hallmark of clinical education.”

But that isn’t necessarily true either, especially since promoting public health, protecting public safety, safeguarding the environment (including against climate change), challenging governmental corruption, etc. may be even more important, and have more of an overall and lasting beneficial effect on society.

For example, law students in my clinical but non-clinic law school course have saved millions of lives and billions of health care dollars, established many important legal precedents as well as new movements, etc.

For more examples and information, see, e.g.,



Also, since the students pick their own legal action projects and targets, rather than having them dictated by the clinic director or the law school, they are not necessarily “replicating the legal practice hierarchies.”


Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Nov 3, 2019 5:03:21 PM

Just wanted to give credit to Bob Kuehn and David Santacroce who collected this data through the Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education. See

Posted by: Minna Kotkin | Nov 3, 2019 3:39:27 AM