top story
May 28, 2010

ABA President Lamm Defends Law School Environmental Law Clinical Programs

Twice in a matter of weeks, U.S. law school environmental law clinical programs have survived attack in state legislatures openly tied to protection of business interests.  Ironically, one of the clinics under attack was at Tulane University in New Orleans, within reach of the Deep Horizon oil rig and leak in the Gulf Coast.

In each case, ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm was among leaders defending the clinical program.

The Louisiana Senate Committee, Consumer Protection and International Affairs voted in mid-May to defeat a bill that would have barred law clinics at universities receiving state money from suing a government agency or representing a client suing a private defendant for monetary damages.  Lamm had issued a statement urging that the bill be withdrawn.  She noted “these law clinics represent the people of Louisiana who have very real and immediate problems but few resources to solve them.”

Sponsors and advocates of the proposal said it was targeting the Tulane environmental law clinic, and an amendment filed shortly before the committee vote would have limited its application to environmental clinics.  Local news reports cited support for the proposal from trade associations for chemical, oil and gas industries that complained that suits filed by clinic students had damaged economic development in the state for years.  Coinciding with the committee action were reports of a letter campaign by the Louisiana Chemical Association urging corporate members to end corporate donations to the university and stop recruiting Tulane students.

In April, Lamm argued against draft legislation to withhold funds from the University of Maryland School of Law unless it reported on clients and cases served by the school’s clinical legal program, expenditures for those cases and funding sources.  Backers of the proposal claimed a suit brought by the school’s environmental law clinic is targeting an important segment of the state’s agriculture industry.  Lamm called the proposal an intolerable “intrusion on the attorney‑client relationship,” and cited the importance of clinical programs and the practical experience they provide students training to practice law.

Before the Maryland budget legislation was approved it was amended to require the law school to list and describe each legal case in which the clinic participated in court action over the previous two years, including details of non-privileged expenditures for each.  But dropped were threats to rescind amounts ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 unless the clinic filed more detailed reports.

The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is considering the adequacy of association policies in light of these and other reported challenges to law school clinical programs.