Tuesday, August 01, 2017

I Have Some Terrible News About What Law Schools Do

A prominent clinic at the University of North Carolina law school looks likely to be functionally shuttered after a committee of the UNC Board of Governors voted to bar it from representing any future clients. The Center for Civil Rights, which enjoyed the strong backing of campus leaders, had drawn the ire of conservative forces in the state when it took cases in contentious environmental, land use, and racial segregation controversies.

This is a huge blow to academic freedom, as it is beyond evident that the center is being attacked because of its perceived politics. But the attempts to justify the decision in neutral or even pedagogical terms is, if anything, even more pathetic. Here's how one official justified his vote:
[Marty] Kotis, a real-estate developer and UNC-CH alumnus, indicated that he thinks lawsuits in general are a waste of money and that people should look for other ways to resolve conflicts. Putting the center out of the business of representing clients is “simply about reducing the amount of litigation out there,” he said.
Marty, I have some terrible news for you regarding what law schools train aspiring lawyers to do.

Another official -- this one a lawyer -- took almost the precise opposite stance of every boomer-complaint about impractical law schools and their Ivory  Tower cloud-headedness to say that law schools should offer no clinical practice whatsoever. "A law school is one thing; a law firm is another thing," he said, and then suggested that the only role of the former is to aid students in coming "to a deeper understanding of the philosophical roots behind each case and the cultural implications they have." Speaking as someone very much on the theory side of the theory/practice legal spectrum, I nonetheless am stunned to see such a full-throated dismissal of the practice side of legal training from a practitioner.

While there remains another vote to be taken, most observers expect that the end of the Center for Civil Rights' days representing clients is nigh. That's a major blow to UNC's law school -- not just because it is losing a well-regarded clinical center, but because it emphasizes the entire school's vulnerability to political piques from well-connected outsiders. A law school -- a university -- cannot function as it is meant to in such a case.

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