Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Controversy Surrounds Changes To Wisconsin Law School's Year-Long Tuition-Free Clinics Which Pay $2,500 Stipends To Students

Wisconsin State Journal, Changes Likely Coming to UW Law School Clinics, Worrying Some Students and Legal Community:

WisconsinThe University of Wisconsin Law School may pare back some of its yearlong clinics in a change the school argues could increase student participation but some students fear would threaten the quality of their education and the work they do for clients.

The school’s 17 legal clinics offer students the opportunity to do pro bono legal work under the guidance of a professor. ... Most clinics begin in the summer and continue over the next two semesters. Students receive a $2,500 stipend for their summer work and earn credits without paying tuition.

Law School Dean Dan Tokaji said it’s a format not used at most other schools and that it limits access because of its “one-size-fits-all” approach. This summer, for example, 165 first-year students applied but there were only about 100 spots. ...

The school wants to provide more scheduling flexibility by starting some clinics in the fall or spring semesters and guarantee a spot to every student who wants one beginning in the 2022-23 school year, Tokaji wrote in an email last week to the “Save our Clinics Coalition,” an informal group that is collecting signatures and stories from individuals opposed to clinic changes. ...

Tokaji said he understands that a single semester may not satisfy some students. “That’s why we’re creating options for multi-semester,” he said in an interview. “Where I respectfully disagree is in requiring students to stay in clinic for 12 months in order to get the benefits of a clinical education. ... This is about giving more choices to students, not less.”

Still, some in the state’s legal and political communities are worried by what they hear. ...

The potential changes come after a year of campus-wide budget cuts caused by COVID-19 that will continue over the next year. The law school’s share of the cuts over the two years totals about $1 million, Tokaji said, but the primary motivation in changing the clinics is not because of budgetary constraints. He said none of the clinics will be eliminated nor will any of the 28 clinical faculty members be laid off. ...

The UW Board of Regents this winter approved tuition increases for law students over the next two years. Students will pay an additional $2,600 in 2021-22 and $2,800 in 2022-23, a 10% increase for in-state students and 6% increase for those from out of state.

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