A century ago, Harvard Law School’s centennial report offered a brief comment on the role of experiential learning: “Such experiments have been more successful in affording amusement than in substantial benefit to the participants. A fact trial now and then is well worth while, but only as a relief to the tedium of serious work.”
Today, at the law school’s bicentennial, clinics are firmly established within the law school. And yet, as traditional forms of legal education continue to account for roughly 90–95% of a typical law student’s credit load, it remains worth clarifying the role that clinics can play within a legal education and how the law school can use them to accomplish more ambitious goals in its third century.
Clinics are celebrated for giving students opportunities to do important public interest work. Indeed, one vital motivation for the first law school clinic, opened by John Bradway at Duke in 1931, was to provide legal aid in North Carolina, where existing resources could not meet the needs of the community. The wave of clinical expansion of the 1960s and 1970s, exemplified by the work of HLS’s own Gary Bellow, similarly emphasized the role of clinics in advancing justice. The need for such public interest work is no smaller today than it was in those earlier moments: basic legal services remain out of reach for many, and the very existence of the Legal Services Corporation is threatened. It is in this capacity that clinics star in the “HLS in the Community” event, to be held in April 2018.