August 23, 2016 Articles

What Do Appellate Clinics Do?

Law school clinics provide benefits beyond teaching students how to practice law.

By Thomas Burch – August 23, 2016

A few years ago, the New York Times published an article titled “What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering.” Among other things, it chastised law schools for emphasizing “chin-stroking” scholarship over teaching “practical” skills, ultimately claiming that not enough schools trained students to provide actual legal services when they graduate. The not-so-subtle point, of course, was that law schools were failing in their basic mission of teaching students how to practice law.

Regardless of whether you agree with that point, the article also noted that many law schools are making at least one change to address the perceived problem: increasing the number of legal clinics offered to students. In particular, it noted that clinics are a “growing presence on nearly every campus,” with many getting “high marks for quality and participation.” These clinics, the article recognized, teach the types of skills that better prepare students to enter the legal marketplace.

Even so, many lawyers who are hiring these students know little about what it is that clinics do exactly. For example, since I began teaching in the Appellate Litigation Clinic at the University of Georgia School of Law (UGA), I have frequently encountered questions about the nature of our clinical work. With that in mind, this article hopefully sheds a little more light on the topic, specifically in the context of clinics that focus on appellate practice.

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