A Follow-Up to Mary Lynch’s December Challenge

The following post comes to us from Irene Scharf:

I’m following up on Mary Lynch’s December 20 blog post, in which she laments the sad state of affairs in which we generally find ourselves – violence, commercialization of the holidays, and the long dark nights of winter.  Not to mention the “darkness” apparently enveloping legal education, with fewer and fewer applicants to law school, increasing difficulty for graduates to find jobs, greater negativity from the media about law schools losing their way, being unresponsive to the needs of their students.

Mary’s wish for the season is for us to redeem ourselves by creating change for the better.  She wants to hear how we are extricating ourselves from causing harm or other detrimental effects to our students, the profession, and society.  She wants to hear stories of illumination.

I’m hoping to reply to Mary with some notes of optimism.  Here at the new (now in our third year of operation) UMass Law School, the first and only public law school in Massachusetts, we’re trying to create that better change.  We’re offering students an affordable way to become lawyers, to reach their goals without being so debt-laden that their hopes to help others in their communities are weighed-down by their own debt.  If students can get the substantive and practical knowledge necessary to become excellent, caring, ethical lawyers while attending affordable law schools, their goals of helping their own communities will be more likely to be achieved.  At the Law School, we encourage students to gain experience “in practice” by aiding others through our pro bono program as well as through two in-house clinics (Community Development and Immigration); two legal-services-based clinics, one concentrating on the civil legal needs of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe; and a robust Field Placement/Externship Program.

New programs on the horizon include a full semester (aka Vermont’s “Semester in Practice”) in-office placement as well as coordination of the Immigration Clinic with local community activists assisting in legal and organizing efforts of low-wage immigrant workers and with national organizations assisting victimized immigrant workers.  We soon hope to sponsor a pro bono Spring Break trip that will enable students to immerse themselves in the culture, language, social, and legal issues predominant in poverty-stricken nations just hours away from the Law School.

I hope that some of the energy evident in this post will inspire others to share all of the good things they are doing where they work, as I know that what I’ve described here, from my neck of the woods, indicates just a small teaspoon of leavening in the large recipe of “good work” (I’ve been baking a lot!) about which Mary is hoping to hear.   This work, rather than causing the harm so many are saying law schools are responsible for, are true stories of illumination.

 

 

2 Responses

  1. Thanks Irene. I particularly liked your line:

    If students can get the substantive and practical knowledge necessary to become excellent, caring, ethical lawyers while attending affordable law schools, their goals of helping their own communities will be more likely to be achieved.

    I find a real challenge to be defining the type of supervision and feedback required to transform simple “experience” into “experience-based education.” As we all know, learning simply by immersion without guidance and design can lead to poorly developed skills. I would love to hear how folks find that balance.

  2. Irene, you do a great job of showing how your school is making a difference in the students’ educational experience. I think students are going to be VERY interested in ensuring that their educational experience is relevant and effective. And, law schools need to realize that our traditional way of doing things could use improvement! Thanks for your post!

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