Clinic business

The Drake Legal Clinic celebrates its 50th anniversary

The Drake Legal Clinic has undergone many changes since its founding 50 years ago, including the move from its original home on Brattleboro Street to the new Smith Center. However, the clinic’s mission has has remained the same: providing law students with hands-on experience while providing the community with quality free legal services.

In 1971, Drake Law added a new component to its educational program: an in-house legal clinic. According to the teacher Suzan Pritchett, director of clinics and experiential education at Drake Law, the clinic began as a small street attorney program intended to provide students with hands-on experience.

“One of the best ways for them to learn and prepare to be good lawyers is to do the work of a lawyer before they graduate and do it under the supervision of faculty members or experienced attorneys,” Pritchett said. “Not only do we think very deeply about how to teach students to become lawyers in this environment, but we also make sure that we follow the rules of professional responsibility and that we have good policies and procedures in place. from a direction of practice. to ensure that we are able to provide the clients we represent with the highest quality of service and legal representation that they deserve.

Organizations like the Polk County Legal Aid Society received funding early on and increased the number of legal aid attorneys, but the number of universities nationwide with in-house legal clinics was low. In 1968, Drake’s law professor, Gene Blackburn, supervised 3L students who provided other Drake students with counseling services on criminal and civil law matters. Polk County Legal Aid provided Professor Blackburn with funds to send him and his colleagues to visit Harvard Law’s legal clinic in 1970, which would serve as the inspiration for the Drake Legal Clinic.

The focus on free legal aid spawned by the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright helped found the clinic. Gideon v. Wainwright protected his right to a lawyer by guaranteeing that those who cannot afford their own lawyers will be provided with one by the government under the 14th and 6th Amendments. This decision also indirectly created momentum by guaranteeing a lawyer for all in civil cases as well.

In 1987, the Neal and Bea Smith Law Center was built and named after former Congressman Smith and his wife in recognition of their service to their community, nation, and alma mater. The clinic was built with a $4 million grant from the U.S. Congress that was included in a supplementary appropriations bill introduced by former Representative Smith. $1 million was spent on the actual construction of the new center, while the other $3 million was spent on operating costs such as staffing. According to Pritchett, the new building and new funding marked the beginning of a booming period for the Drake Legal Clinic.

“We represent members of the community, start-ups or small businesses who deserve lawyers and should have lawyers in their process, and thanks to the clinic and our ability to represent people for free, we have been able to provide them. “, said Pritchett. . “We think providing that service to the community is also really at the core of who we are, and that’s kind of reflected in the fact that we have this building that’s like on the bus route outside of the law school. , and we’ve made it so people can have an easier time getting here if they don’t own a car have easy transportation.

Pritchett said the legal community is filled with judges and lawyers who have been through the clinic. According to Pritchett, these lawyers testify to the impact of the clinic because they are examples of excellent lawyers.

The Drake Legal Clinic has six different practice areas: criminal law, children’s law, small business and corporate law, immigration law and civil law.. In each section of Drake Legal Clinic, students gain hands-on experience in a different area of ​​law under the supervision of an expert in that area. Several students and professors at the clinic have commented on how beneficial it is to get out of the classroom to learn the necessary legal skills.

“You get to apply the theories and see the laws you learn in your freshman year of law school and how you’re actually going to use them in real life,” said third-year law student Leah Dodd. “A lot of times when you get your law degree, you’re going to practice for the first time and you haven’t seen any of these things that we do. So it’s nice to have them while you’re still learning so you can ask questions.

Pritchett said the Drake Legal Clinic wants to continue to grow this successful program so that Drake law students and the community can continue to reap the benefits. Pritchett and his colleagues said the camaraderie and hands-on experience this program provides is unique to Drake and provides many opportunities.

“There are so many cases and so many students that I have had the honor of teaching,” said Professor Robert Rigg, director of the criminal defense program. “I wish I could think of one thing, but I think it’s all the buildup of being here so long and seeing the progress of students becoming lawyers and then judges. I think it was a remarkable experience for me.