Legal education is under attack — and rightly so. Corporate law firms are downsizing. State budgets are shrinking. Non-profits are shutting their doors, and student debt is exploding. In this climate, those of us who are engaged in training our next generation’s lawyers must rethink our mission — how to prepare our students for a profession that will be leaner (and likely meaner) than ever before? How to ensure that we are not further glutting an already-bursting pipeline?
Ten years ago, nine percent of all college graduates applied to law school. Today the figure is a mere three percent. Law school applications are down — WAY down — across the country — from the Ivies to the top 30 to the fourth tier J.D. mills.
I am clearly biased, but I am proud of what my own law school — one of the few truly public law schools left standing — has done and continues to do to buck the trend. Dean Jack Boger, is committed to experiential education. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a vibrant clinical legal program (of which I am proud to be a part) that has expanded in recent years. Clinical faculty specialize in civil litigation, immigration law, domestic violence representation, non-profit and community development law, consumer finance and foreclosures, and juvenile justice. We have an impressive externship program with over 100 placements each year with federal and state judges, lawyers from government agencies, public interest groups and corporate counsel offices. We have a top-notch writing, research, and advocacy program that begins training our students for practice during their first semester and continues throughout their three years with academic-enrichment, bar-preparation and wellness offerings. And, our faculty has developed an innovative transition-to-practice curriculum that combines theory with skills to ensure that our graduates are ready to effectively represent their clients with rigor, commitment and compassion.
It is against this background that I was thrilled (and admittedly envious) to learn that the fine folks at Northwestern Law’s Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) (Director Julie Biehl is pictured with staff and students on left) had received the equivalent of the MacArthur Genius Award for institutions. The $750K award will allow them to establish an endowment and implement a strategic communications and development plan. In other words, their organization — which trains law students to represent children, adolescents and their families through direct legal representation, policy advocacy and law reform — will now have a measure of security over the coming decade.
Please check out this three minute MacArthur video celebrating CFJC. It highlights the vitally important work of the faculty and students at Northwestern as well as the power of clinical legal education to effect change — both for individual clients and the broader community.