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Yale Law School has started what may be the first law clinic devoted specifically to professional ethics. The school launched the Ethics Bureau at Yale in January with eight students. In charge of the project is law school lecturer Lawrence Fox, a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath. Fox conceived of the clinic in late 2009 after he asked several Yale students to assist him in drafting an amicus brief on behalf of the Stein Center for Law and Ethics and others in the U.S. Supreme Court case Holland v. Florida. That case dealt with whether a client should suffer the consequences of misconduct by his attorney. (Fox’s amicus brief argued that the petitioner, a state prisoner in Florida, should be allowed to petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus because his attorney committed misconduct by missing the filing deadline. The court agreed, in a 7-2 decision.) Fox has been teaching a professional responsibility course at Yale, and saw the clinic as a natural outgrowth that would give students some real-world experience with ethics problems. He believes the clinic would also be a valuable resource to lawyers around the country with ethics questions. The clinic is handling eight matters around the country, with more on the way. Fox declined to discuss the specifics of cases, citing client confidentiality, but said one of them involves prosecutorial misconduct, another involves judicial ethics and two involve claims of inefficient assistance of counsel. “We already have a full platter of cases,” Fox said. “We haven’t even publicized it that much and already we’re as busy as we can be.” The clinic will draft amicus briefs in cases involving professional responsibility issues; assist people with ineffective assistance of counsel claims; provide legal ethics advice to nonprofit groups; and get involved in questions of judicial ethics, such as whether judges should recuse themselves. Students are paired up on the cases and attend a weekly class on professional responsibility and ethics, taught by Fox. “I’m hoping that this is something that we can sustain,” Fox said of the clinic. “I’m ready for it to go on, but it’s a question of funding and student interest.”

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