A Letter from the Co-Directors of the Clinical Law Program
Co-Directors of the Clinical Law Program Michael Pinard and Leigh Goodmark
Clinic poses unique challenges at the best of times. Law students, many of whom have never talked to a client or drafted a pleading, are expected to rapidly learn the substantive law and skills they need to competently and zealously represent their clients. And their clients are often multiply marginalized: they not only face substantial barriers to justice, but also may have any number of pressing issues in addition to the legal matter.
Add to all of this a pandemic.
After the Law School went to virtual learning in March, the Clinical Law Program scrambled to make sure that our students had everything that they would need to continue providing the exceptional representation to our clients for which we are known. Our staff figured out how to do their work supporting our clients, students and faculty remotely. We learned about remote faxing and notary services. We became Zoom experts (well, we tried). We found ways to ensure that we could communicate with our clients, even when those clients were particularly hard to reach or did not have access to technology that would allow us to connect. Our students dove into work created by the pandemic. We filed lawsuits to try to get our incarcerated clients who were particularly vulnerable to the virus released and to address pandemic-related employment discrimination. We developed guidance for low income people on what court closures would mean for them. We helped low income taxpayers file for stimulus funding.
We are now in our seventh month of running a remote clinical program. We miss our students and our clients. Like everyone else, we’re tired of Zoom and of working out of our homes. But our students continue to amaze us. They continue to dive into the work, despite the hardships of learning and living in these times. Students in the Criminal Defense Clinic are representing individuals incarcerated in federal prison in compassionate release cases; all of these clients have health conditions that put them at high risk of severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19. Students in the Youth, Education and Justice Clinic are working to remove police officers from Maryland’s schools. Our Environmental, Public Health Law and Legal/Medical Partnership Clinics are collaborating on an eviction prevention project. Law and Social Work Services students are advising clients on their rights when facing eviction or the inability to pay rent. Our students come to the work with urgency, humility, good humor, strong work ethics, and the genuine commitment to helping our clients vindicate their legal rights.
Like everyone, we will be grateful when the pandemic ends and we are able to go back to running a fully functioning law office in a place other than our dining room tables. But we will always be indebted to this group of students, faculty, and staff for ensuring that our clients continued to receive the legal services they so badly need. One of the bedrock commitments of Maryland Carey Law is access to justice. Our Clinical Law Program is one of the major ways that we fulfill that commitment. And we pledge to keep doing that—even during a pandemic. Especially during a pandemic.