By: Jason Huber, Assistant Professor of Law Charlotte School of Law email@example.com
We are all familiar with how practical and pedagogical issues limit the ability of law schools to provide students with traditional clinical opportunities. In order to expand experiential offerings to students outside of the clinic setting, Charlotte School of Law utilizes capstone classes. While capstone classes come in variety of forms, we use a course model which blends doctrinal study with practical application. Recently, our students achieved substantial milestones through one of CSL’s capstone offerings.
In the fall of 2009, I was charged with developing a civil rights clinic. Working with Professor Adcock, CSL’s Director of Experiential Learning, we saw an opportunity to kill two experiential learning birds with one stone. Rather than a faculty member designing and implementing a clinic program, we created a Civil Rights Capstone course where students were responsible for researching and developing the civil rights clinic themselves. The class required students to assume a mock attorney-client relationship with CSL. They were assigned the task of assisting CSL in creating a civil rights clinic which would provide both a rigorous educational experience and much needed service to the community. Throughout the class, the students studied the history of the clinical legal education movement, substantive civil rights law, the availability (or lack thereof) of potential remedies, different pedagogical clinical theories and also surveyed many clinicians concerning the nuts and bolts of their programs.
While doing so, the students discovered a significant hindrance to their client’s goal–the United States District Court for Western District of North Carolina did not have a student practice rule. After researching various state and federal student practice rules, the students drafted and submitted a proposed rule to the district court. Chief Judge Robert Conrad and the Board of Judges for the Western District directed Magistrate Judge David Cayer and the Clerk of Court Frank Johns to work with us on creating a rule. Based on the student drafted rule, after some discussion and editing, the Western District adopted its first ever student practice rule on June 24, 2010.
We have already seen the fruits of our labor. On July 1, 2010, CSL student Candace Davis became the Western District’s first certified student practitioner where, under the supervision of Claire Rauscher, Executive Director of the Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina, she represented clients in multiple arraignments, bond and probable cause hearings.
In addition to their successful rule making, the capstone students’ end of the semester presentation to the CSL administration concerning their clinic proposal was very well received and served as the blueprint for our existing Civil Rights Clinic. John Arco, Kevin Beck, Tanea Hines, Jeffrey Ellingsworth, Kevin Vidunas, Hector Henry and Brian Chapman were the students responsible for these successes.
While capstone classes are no substitute for actual clinical offerings, they can provide students with “real world” learning opportunities that build substantive knowledge and problem-solving skills while serving others. As such, the capstone experience is an important arrow in our experiential learning quiver.
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