A new article by Professors Keith A. Findley and Louise G. Trubek highlights the unique strengths of the clinical legal education program at the University of Wisconsin Law School. The article is entitled Clinics at Wisconsin: Comprehensive, In-Depth Pedagogy and Bottom-Up Innovation, 2021 Wisconsin Law Review 409 (2021).
The University of Wisconsin (UW) Law School has been a pioneer in clinical education. Experiential education, involving actual legal advocacy and practice, started at Wisconsin in the 1970s before many U.S. law schools had even thought about what came to be called law school “clinics.” These initial efforts developed out of the Law School’s commitment to innovations in criminal justice and its support of public interest law and administrative advocacy.
Wisconsin clinics have been designed to meet broad and deep learning objectives in two distinct ways: immersion with a broad view of substantive law and policy related to individual cases and innovation and experimentation in delivery methods from the bottom up.
Wisconsin’s clinics have long embraced “immersion” experiences, in which students enroll both for a large number of credits—often full-time over the summer after the 1L year (accompanied, uniquely, by a stipend to financially enable students to participate)—and commit to spending multiple semesters in the clinic, often a full year or more. This allows the students to take ownership of their cases and thereby learn to make conceptually and academically rigorous inquiries and decisions.
The second element of the distinctive Wisconsin tradition is the emphasis on innovation and experimentation from the bottom up. The clinic founders had that vision, and it has enabled the clinics to tackle new issues as they appear over time.
Two current innovative projects are highlighted:
The Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons (LAIP) project, one of only a few clinical legal programs in the country that tackles compassionate release cases. Professor Renagh O’Leary, who leads LAIP’s compassionate release work, won a 2020 Legal Innovator Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin for her leadership.
Legal Interventions for Transforming Dane (LIFT Dane) is a collaboration of the Law School’s Economic Justice Institute (EJI), UW Center for Patient Partnerships, and community organizations to develop a technology application that streamlines legal services, facilitates self-help, and reduces lawyer workload. LIFT Dane earned top honors and $1 million in funding from the Alliance for the American Dream, a national competition for innovative ideas to move more families into the middle class.