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Law School shuts down pro bono legal clinic

Closure attributed to budget constraints due to declining attendance

By John Rogers /// News Editor

The downtown Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic, a source of pro bono legal services for low-income Portlanders since 1971, will close on Jan. 1, 2015.

The Clinic was run by legal clinicians and law students enrolled in externships through the law school. It created a mutually beneficial relationship between LC and the community: students received practical law experience; low-income Portlanders received help with legal issues including child support modifications, domestic violence cases and tax controversies.

The closure will force people to find pro bono services elsewhere. Although there are other legal aid services in Oregon, Erica Nist-Lund (2L) worries the clinic’s absence will still hit hard.

“The legal clinic was a fixture in the community. My concern is that the under-served won’t know where to turn to when shit hits the fan.”

Associate Dean of Faculty Susan Mandiberg also acknowledged the community impact. “It’s not something that anyone is happy about. It’s a loss to the community because at least in the short-run, there will be a reduced supply of pro bono legal assistance for low-income Portlanders.”

Mandiberg stated that the closure was a hard but necessary decision. Dean of the Law School Jennifer Johnson agreed, attributing the closure to the law school’s budget constraints. “The clinic cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to run, and was completely funded by student tuition,” she said. “Of all of the clinics at the Law School, this was the only one so heavily supported by tuition.”

The LC Law School is one of many law schools across the country suffering from drops in attendance in the past few years, thanks to the economic crises and an oversaturation of law graduates. According to Johnson, “the law school has made substantial cuts in its operating budget and will make additional cuts this year.”

Despite the loss to the local community, the downtown legal clinic is not the only public interest clinic run by the law school. There are six others currently in oporation. In addition to services provided through the clinics, externships and internships, Johnson stated that students provided more than 15,000 hours of pro bono community service last year.

Not everyone thinks the clinic’s closure was prudent. “I think it’s ridiculous that the school continues to spend lavish amounts of money on the Dean and star faculty while shutting down things like the clinic,” said Kevin Hayes (3L).

“It could have been handled better,” said Nist-Lund. “Poor communication between the administration and students/alumni made for bad publicity for the school.”

3 Comments

  1. While I appreciate there is an article on this topic in the undergrad paper, this article barely scratches the surface of the issue. It is also entirely lacking in relevant sources. Where are the clients, clinic students, and faculty of the Clinic in this article? You talk about the impact on the local community without actually showing it.

    Losing this Clinic will put a huge strain on legal aid in Portland. Only a small fraction of the legal needs of low-income Portlanders are met as it is. Now there is no option for folks whom legal aid organizations cannot take on. Many of the clinical faculty have been there for decades and provide valuable teaching that students might not get in other externship environments.

    Also, the kicker of the story should have been explored more. Transparency and student involvement was a HUGE part of the problem with this decision. The Budget Committee discussed closing the clinic in confidential meetings for over two years before dropping it on students that we could not afford the model we had. Closing in the middle of the year when students already enrolled in Spring Clinic was completely unnecessary and showed a lack of respect for students. The administration and SBA needs to communicate better between themselves and must disseminate that information to the student body. Our administration and student government failed on this issue.

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