Are you a paralegal educator seeking to provide your students with more practical field experience? Then, you may want to consider starting a legal clinic for your students. In this blog post, I present a general overview and share tips on developing and implementing a legal clinics for paralegal students.
Developing a clinical program within a paralegal studies program is no small feat. It takes time, human capital, and funding. You also must have buy-in from the administration. This may require you to educate your institution’s senior leadership about legal clinics and their value.
Those of us who attended law school may be familiar with legal clinics. We understand that law clinics generally provide legal advice to low income clients or others who do not have access to legal representation. We know that legal clinics benefit the law students who participate in them and the clients they serve. Clinical legal education allows students to see the real-world connection between legal theory and the work of practicing lawyers. This same model also can benefit future paralegals.
So, how do we replicate clinical legal education for paralegal programs, particularly, when dealing with the issue of legal advice?
Determining the Clinics to be Offered
First, you should determine the type of clinic you will offer to the community. To make this decision, we first surveyed paralegal students to find out their interests. Overwhelmingly, students wanted a clinic that focused on criminal and family law. Other requests were for clinics concentrating on immigration, business, and constitutional law.
We then examined the needs of the population we planned to serve. Our goal was to make sure the legal clinics would align with the needs and desires of the community. We concluded that we should establish an expungement clinic as well as a clinic to assist families in various ways. Although there was a community need for immigration assistance, we did not have the resources to develop an immigration clinic. We hope to do so in the future.
Last, due to the large number of senior citizens in our area, the program decided to develop the Wills Clinic. We felt that this would be a great opportunity for students to develop both client intake and document drafting skills.
Thus, as a result of surveying the community and students, the program created three legal clinics: Criminal Law Expungement Clinic, Family Advocacy Clinic, and Wills Clinic.
The Issue of Legal Advice
In developing and implementing a legal clinic for a paralegal studies program, you need to be careful not to create an environment that encourages the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). We had this concern, and when we setup the clinics at Delaware County Community College(DCCC). However, ultimately UPL was not as big of an issue as we initially expected.
Licensed attorneys must oversee law students participating in legal clinics. Likewise, paralegal students must be supervised by a licensed attorney. To ensure our program did not violate the rules of professional conduct, we used licensed attorneys to oversee the students participating in the clinics.
When we recruited clinical supervisors, we turned first to attorneys teaching in our program as adjuncts. Adjunct faculty agreed to supervise the Family Advocacy Clinic and the Wills Clinic. I will discuss the compensation of adjuncts later under Securing Resources.
After the adjunct instructors agreed to serve, we looked to partner with local legal aid organizations. For our Criminal Law Expungement Clinic, we partnered with the Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania (LASP). Two LASP attorneys, along with one of our adjuncts, supervise student work for this clinic.