Mainstream Goals, Dynamic Teaching: The New Clinical Legal Education

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Clinical legal education should be an educational process. While the preceding statement may appear redundant, the continuing debate about the merits of clinical legal education has been marked by a failure on the part of both its adherents and opponents to appreciate the obvious: because clinical legal education is a teaching method, its strengths and weaknesses are determined by the effectiveness with which the teacher exploits the learning opportunities created by the methodology. It is, therefore, wrong to argue that clinical legal education necessarily results in an enhanced sense of justice, a strengthened concept of one's professional role, or an understanding of law as process. It is equally incorrect to protest that clinical legal education implies a renunciation of intellectual rigour in favour of a return to emphasis on the acquisition of mechanical lawyering skills. A clinical legal education program may be oriented in any or none of these ways.

The objectives of this paper are twofold: first, to examine the current state of clinical methodology in Canadian law schools, and second, to develop a theory of structured clinical legal education that is consonant with the mandate of law schools to move beyond narrow vocational training in order to foster an intellectual appreciation of law as part of a dynamic social order. While it has frequently been assumed that clinical education is in essence an attempt to incorporate a practical training period in the formal educational program, it is argued here that clinical education in law schools can and should be a means of providing students with an enhanced understanding of mainstream conceptual learning goals.


Work published when author not on Michigan Law faculty. Also published under the title 'A Structured Approach to Clinical Legal Education.' In Legal Education in Canada. Reports and Background Papers of a National Conference on Legal Education held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 23-26, 1985.