Every year, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law operates approximately 25 legal clinics. Michael Pinard is a Professor of Law and Director of the Clinical Law Program. Rachel Granfield ’11 sat down with Professor Pinard to talk about clinical legal education and its importance both to students and to the community.
Rachel Granfield: Why is clinical education valuable to law students?
Michael Pinard: In a nutshell, it provides them with the foundational skills, judgment, and values necessary to engage in the practice of law.
RG: What are the biggest challenges for students in a clinic?
MP: Clinic work is intense. It confronts students with difficult legal issues and with clients who have led very different lives from their own. It challenges who they are as people, who they are as lawyers, who they want to be as lawyers.
RG: And what do students take away from a clinic experience?
MP: They take away so many things. They learn the power of law. They also learn that clients often have multiple legal and non-legal problems that need to be resolved. Students see firsthand the lack of access to justice and legal gaps that exist. Conversely, they also see the beauty of providing top-notch legal services. And clinic work teaches them an ethic of pro bono work that they will hopefully carry into their legal careers.
RG: What benefit does a law school clinic have for the clients?
MP: Law school clinics help meet legal needs that would otherwise go unaddressed. We are the lawyers of first and last resort.
RG: What drew you to clinical education?
MP: I took a clinic in law school and it introduced me to law in a very concrete way. My entire legal education taught me the values and ethics that lawyers must possess, but my clinical experience meshed these values and ethics with experiences. I saw how clinics help shape the lawyers of tomorrow and how they also develop a cadre of lawyers dedicated to the public interest. I wanted to have a role in that.
RG: What are the benefits of clinical practice?
MP: First, it helps provide a well-rounded legal education to our students, as it gives them the foundational experiences necessary to engage the profession. Second, clinics often address critical legal needs that would otherwise go unmet. Third, students are incredibly innovative as practitioners. They find ways to push the law and the practice of law in ways that create meaningful change.