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The 2001 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), which carried the theme, “Pursuing Equal Justice: Law Schools and the Provision of Legal Services,” offered an impressive array of legal minds focused on a worthy goal. For four days last week in San Francisco, Calif., law professors gathered at sessions designed to answer the question posed by AALS President Elliot S. Millstein, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law: Can we, through our scholarship, teaching and service, offer useful ideas to ensure that all people are accorded fundamentally fair treatment in the legal system and its adjuncts? The beauty of Millstein’s question is that it focused on the work of law faculty — scholarship, teaching and service — but took the work out of the often isolated, so-called ivory tower and tied it directly to the provision of legal services. The result of this marriage of the theoretical and the practical provision of legal services was a host of conference sessions that gave faculty concrete ideas that they could use to contribute to the pursuit of equal justice and the provision of legal services. The sessions on clinical legal education, preparing students for the bar exam, and addressing inequality stood out to me as extremely beneficial. One of the groups most concerned about the conference theme were the faculty who participated in a three-hour program on “What is Justice and How Do We Get There: (Re)Envisioning Litigation as a Tool of Achieving Social Justice,” a joint program of the Section on Clinical Legal Education and the Section on Litigation. Faculty who teach in and direct law school clinics have long been some of the strongest advocates and practitioners of the pursuit of equal justice in the provision of legal services. The clinics have often challenged systemic inequities that affect minorities and the poor through the pursuit of innovative impact litigation. The goal of this type of litigation is the achievement of broad-based legal and social change. Litigation that makes an impact on entrenched and inequitable governmental policies makes an important societal contribution when it is successful and even when it is not, because law students gain experience that they can build upon in law practice. Despite great successes in some cases, anyone who practices and studies law knows that pursuing litigation is not always the most effective way to achieve equal justice in actions against governmental actors. There are three branches of government — the legislative, the executive, and the judicial — and in many, if not most instances, effective social change has to be addressed at all three levels. The judiciary often defers to the legislature in areas that have been the focus of some broad-based reform, such as education. Besides learning how to litigate, activist students might be well served by learning how to work with elected officials and community groups to draft and ensure the passage of important social change legislation. Once the legislation becomes law, students might be well served by learning how to participate in the administrative rulemaking and regulatory processes, because that is how laws are implemented. Participants in the clinical panel were acutely aware of the limitations of litigation, as shown by the panel theme of whether litigation was an effective means of achieving justice. The panelists included several law school clinical faculty, who talked about instances in which litigation was not as effective as they would have hoped or in which successful litigation created increased scrutiny and hampered effectiveness. The panel led off with a discussion of the restrictions on student practice that were imposed in Louisiana in 1998 after the Tulane University Law School Environmental Clinic (TULSEC) successfully blocked the construction of chemical plants in low-income, largely African-American communities that disproportionately suffered environmental harm. The TULSEC incident angered the state’s business community, which convinced the legislature and the Louisiana Supreme Court to limit the state’s student practice rule. These limitations effectively barred the TULSEC from future representation in similar actions and generally restricted all student clinical practice in the state. Panelists addressed whether legal educators could really consider the Tulane clinic’s work a success since it precipitated restrictions on the clinics. Other panelists also addressed how Legal Services restrictions on the types of cases that can be litigated have restricted the poor from using litigation as a means of seeking redress. Small groups of faculty then met to discuss the question, “If law school pedagogy is largely reliant on a litigation model, but litigation is not necessarily the best way to achieve justice, what does that mean for the way we teach, and what impact does this have on us as teachers or scholars?” Clinical faculty generally said the clinics needed to broaden their roles and look at alternatives to litigation, such as commenting on proposed legislation, administrative regulations, or engaging in alternative dispute resolution. Given the sometimes harsh and negative decisions handed down by judges who do not seem to believe in the pursuit of equal justice for all, it seems most wise for those in law schools who do believe in equal justice to pursue it on as many fronts as necessary. One of the most practical and important issues in the pursuit of equal justice and the provision of legal services is the bar exam and who is admitted to the practice of law. These issues were addressed in the program of the Section on Academic Support. In a program titled, “Developing Strategies and Programs for Maximum Bar Performance: The Ultimate Team Challenge,” academic support faculty led a discussion of how law schools can help increase the bar passage rate of all students, but especially those students who are committed to pursuing equal justice and who represent the diversity of the population most in need of legal services and least able to afford them. BAR PASSAGE RATES Unfortunately, minorities have disproportionately lower bar passage rates. In most instances, when a minority student does not pass the bar, the legal profession usually loses an attorney who is committed to equal justice. These students may retake the bar after one failure, but the retake rate for minority students is lower than for white students. The Academic Support panel addressed ways that law schools can intervene before students graduate, during the summer before they first take the bar exam, and even after students have failed one exam. Just about everyone in attendance was clear that helping students pass the bar should be the role of many participants in the law school process, not the academic support faculty alone. Having run bar preparation programs at my law school for two years, I am acutely aware of how multilayered the needs are of students who are at risk of not passing the bar exam because of poor performance in law school. One of the great successes of the session was that it included academic support faculty, but also faculty who teach in other areas as well as law school deans, so that all segments of the law school academic community could begin to think about and develop comprehensive programs to diversify the practicing bar and enhance the opportunities for equal justice in the provision of legal services. Again, practicality was stressed as participants received concrete descriptions of programs at law schools across the country whose faculty have intervened to help students pass the bar. PROPERTY, WEATH, AND INEQUALITY One of the most pragmatic programs at the conference was the day-long “Workshop on Property, Wealth, and Inequality.” This event took a concrete look at how to bring the conference theme into the classroom through teaching and into the scholarly writing in which faculty engage. After attending one of the small group sessions on “Education/Technology Inequality,” I was struck — as it seemed that many of the other participants also were — at the extent of the digital divide in low- vs. high-income school districts and families. We all seemed to leave the session with the realization that the divide is large and growing, and that it will continue to grow to a point where it cannot be closed unless concerned faculty become part of the solution by raising these issues in their classrooms and in their scholarly writing. I attended the sold-out workshop luncheon where the featured speaker was the indefatigable and impassioned Derrick Bell, currently a professor at New York University School of Law. Bell had taught or inspired many of the faculty at the luncheon through his tireless pursuit of equal justice in the legal academy and beyond. He held the crowd captive with his dramatic telling of the story of a white racist’s views of society and his challenge to the assembled law professors to continue the fight against racism and for equality. Bell’s address was a perfect lead-in for the afternoon sessions on pedagogy, which were designed to allow faculty to discuss directly how they treat particular issues in the classroom. As a novice in the teaching of education law, I found it helpful to get concrete ideas on how to address equal justice issues in the classroom at the afternoon session on pedagogy that I attended, the session on “Constitutional Law/Civil Rights/Education.” Faculty shared tips on how to help students understand the complexities of school desegregation cases, higher education affirmative action cases, and how the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore will change the way they teach about the role of the courts. The concern for equal justice that permeated the conference also extended to the panel of the Section on Education Law on “Violence-Free Schools: An Achievable Objective? (And at What Cost?)” While panelists were naturally concerned with the government’s ability to prevent violence in the schools, they were also concerned with the protection of students’ First Amendment constitutional rights to expression through dress, conduct and speech; students’ 14th Amendment due process rights when mandatory expulsion laws for violent conduct arise; and students’ 4th Amendment search and seizure rights. Anyone leaving the conference would be well aware of the reality that a great deal of work remains to achieve equal justice in our legal system. However, after four days of focused discussion, it is my belief that hundreds of law professors were rejuvenated and stimulated in very practical ways to use their teaching and scholarship toward that end. Sheilah D. Vance is the Director of Academic Support at Villanova University School of Law in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

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