Deep Critique and Democratic Lawyering in Clinical Practice


The crisis in legal education has been defined and accentuated by urgent and existential critiques. This body of complaint and suggestion — in the form of books, foundation reports, law review articles, major media entries, and blog posts — has two gaping holes that this Essay seeks to fill. First, the critiques failed to attend to the diminishment of social justice values and commitments in legal education in the period leading up to the 2008 recession, especially as clinical education — often designated as the carrier of justice values in law schools — faced generational shifts and as "skills" education has been extended and offered to more students. Second, with the exception of the work of Robin West, there is little in the way of a forward-looking progressive and justice-oriented response to the crisis of legal education. The reform discourse since the recession of 2008 is composed nearly exclusively of proposals, such as those by William Henderson and Brian Tamanaha, undergirded by neoliberal assumptions and constructs. Leading reformers accept the accelerated disaggregation and commodification of legal practice without attention to aspects of the profession that privilege the public good over market norms and rationales. This Essay draws on clinical practice rooted in pedagogies focused on the development of critical systems analysis and the political engagement of clients and communities to make the case for a progressive vision of law school reform — and, more generally, the legal profession — that centers justice, connection, and cogeneration of approaches to entrenched social problems.

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