Law students: Give us time to make our case

March 31, 2010

As University of Maryland law students on the verge of graduation, we could not be prouder of our participation in the law school's clinical program. We are the state's largest public interest law firm, and we try to do great things for people in need. Rather than list all our practice areas, it suffices to say that we handle the types of cases other lawyers might want but cannot afford to take, as well as the ones that others could accept but don't want to touch. Not only do we take tough and sometimes unpopular cases, but we do a fantastic job for our clients. All of this is not just our opinion but that of the national legal community, which is probably why our clinical law program is consistently ranked among the very best in the country by US News & World Report in its annual law school rankings.

We work extremely hard to help Marylanders, but do not be confused into thinking that our work is entirely selfless or that only our clients benefit from this essential part of our legal education. We students benefit tremendously from clinical work, not just from the practical experience but also by learning what it means to practice law ethically. The state of Maryland benefits because its law students go on to become the type of lawyers and citizens who realize that justice is not to be rationed to only those who can afford it.

If we are credited with doing such good work and the benefits of that work resonate all over Maryland, what have we done wrong? Why is our clinic's shoestring budget under direct attack? Why is a portion of our state funding being conditioned on us releasing client information in exchange for desperately needed funds? Why did this punitive piece of legislation work its way into the budget bill so late in the legislative session, and only three weeks after the environmental clinic filed a law suit under the Clean Water Act against alleged polluters?

Perhaps in worrying so much about serving the public interest, we neglected to make the proper case for ourselves. Fortunately, there is still time to keep one of America's best law school clinics truly independent. We know too many legislators in Annapolis who have too much respect for the clients we represent and for the professors and students who devote their lives to making Maryland, its people and, yes, its ecosystems a better place than to ram through a piece of legislation that would seriously damage one of this state's most noble institutions.

We ask that legislators to take this proposal off the table for now and give us and our peers in the legal community time to state the case for the clinic's need to have professional independence, if not for our sake, then for the people's sake. When the interests of needy Marylanders hang in the balance, a more thorough discussion is deserved.

Garth Olcese and Amanda Wehner, Baltimore

The writers are third-year students at the University of Maryland School of Law. They do not speak for the school's faculty or administration.

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