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Commentary: New Bill Aims to Stop Law Clinics from Biting the Hand that Feeds

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A new bill introduced into the Louisiana State Legislature by Senator Robert Adley (R-Benton) and backed by the Louisiana Chemical Association seeks to prevent law clinics that receive state money from “suing government agencies, suing individuals and businesses for financial damages or raising most constitutional challenges.”

The introduction of this bill arises mainly in response to previous litigation filed by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic against the energy sector. However, the bill also addresses concerns about law clinics and the hijacking of their original purpose. Initially intended to give law students practical experience and engineer pro bono work, law clinics are now a vehicle for professors with leftist sociopolitical agendas. The result is a steady stream of litigation which typically goes against public sentiment.

In his blog “Between the Lines,” Professor Jeffrey Sadow illustrates the economic benefits which will accompany this bill, such as preventing the diversion of taxpayers’ money, curbing wasteful and fraudulent spending, and redirecting money towards practical legal training.

For some historical perspective on this issue, a superb article by Heather MacDonald in the Winter 2006 edition of City Journal recounts the transformation of law clinics into vehicles for political agendas. MacDonald notes that the “philanthrophic justification for the early law school clinics- that they provided legal help to people who couldn’t afford it- is unimpeachable.” But law clinics are now being diverted to further the liberal agendas of the professoriate.

Much of the criticism of this new bill has come from environmental organizations and lobbying groups who claim the bill is designed to protect the interests of energy corporations. However, these criticisms overlook the principles behind the bill. Law clinics such as those at LSU and Tulane receive state funding to train students in acquiring practical legal skills and to provide pro bono work. Instead, these clinics are essentially biting the hand that feeds them by taking government money and in turn attacking the state and private business. The result is the impediment of economic progress in the name of the putative public interest.

There is no shortage of opportunity for interest groups to implement policy change that does not entail redirecting money intended for the education of law students. Law clinics should be restored to their original purpose and taxpayer dollars should not fund litigation designed to cripple economic development.

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