Last month, we wrote on the GJEL blog about the growing challenge to university law clinics in Maryland and Louisiana. While some claim that the state-funded clinics provide a rare opportunity to represent “the little guy” against massive corporations, others say they’re full of a bunch of liberals who just want to stick it to “the man.”
This week, the challenge grew more serious in Louisiana, where state Sen. Robert Adley introduced a bill, similar to legislation rejected by Maryland’s legislature, that would withhold state funds from law clinics that refuse to turn over case information. “The intent is fairly simple,” says Adley. “Philosophically, I’m opposed to taking taxpayer money and then turning around to suing taxpayers. If you’re going to take money from the taxpayers and the government, you ought not to be able to sue the taxpayers and the government.”
It turns out that these environmental law clinics don’t just stand up for that “little guy,” and mess with giant corporations for fun. As the National Law Journal reports, they’ve achieved tangible results:
Last year, the clinic helped secure a mercury contamination settlement from EnerVest Operating LLC, an oil and gas management company. It also helped stop the planned conversion of a power plant into a coal and petroleum coke burning facility — reversing earlier approval given by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. The clinic alleged that the move would limit emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. Critics have accused the clinic of driving investments and commerce out of the state, while supporters credit it with standing up for citizens’ rights and protecting natural resources.
Proponents of the clinics have suggested that in addition to curbing a system that produces results while providing second and third year law students with courtroom experience, restricting the freedom of clinics could be unlawful. “Legislative oversight of lawyer activities is an unacceptable government intrusion into the necessary and confidential lawyer-client relationship and an expansion of government regulation of the rights of private citizens,” leaders from the Society of American Law Teachers wrote in a letter to Tulane law Dean Stephen M. Griffin.
On May 12, Adley’s bill is scheduled for review before Louisiana’s commerce and consumer protection committee, which will either follow Maryland’s lead and throw out the challenge, or put the country’s first rubber stamp on legislation that would end university law clinics. It’s hard to imagine that, with a growing oil spill off the Gulf Coast, coming down against an environmental law clinic would be popular. But we’ll keep you posted.