Catalyst Magazine

‘Beating Heart’ of Law School: Clinical Law Program Has Been Making a Difference for 50 Years

Fifty years ago, scholars and students at the University of Maryland School of Law saw a need to address Baltimore’s severe lack of access to justice for disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. Fueled by this desire, the law school established its Clinical Law Program, allowing it to tackle that need while building experiential learning, driven by sound theory and doctrine, into law students’ training.  

Leigh Goodmark (center), the Clinical Law Program’s co-director, poses with clients in the Maryland Carey Law Moot Courtroom. The law school celebrated the program’s anniversary with the investiture of Goodmark as the Marjorie Cook Professor of Law.
Leigh Goodmark (center wearing black), the Clinical Law Program’s co-director, poses with clients in the Maryland Carey Law Moot Courtroom. The law school celebrated the program’s anniversary with the investiture of Goodmark as the Marjorie Cook Professor of Law.

“The Clinical Law Program is the beating heart of our law school,” said Francis King Carey School of Law Dean Renée McDonald Hutchins, JD. “The work of our clinics represents our deep commitment to providing access to justice in our city and to the integration of theory and practice woven into the curriculum.” 

The program, one of the first of its kind in the nation, has flourished since the early 1970s, as has the law school’s national reputation for the breadth, diversity, and impact of its clinical courses and for the excellence of the clinical faculty.

A primary reason students cite for attending Maryland Carey Law is the opportunity to begin making a difference before they even graduate. Alumni also laud their clinic experiences for providing the skills and tools to hit the ground running when they began practicing after graduation. 

“My first time in court is one I will never forget,” said Isabella Datillo, a Class of 2024 student in the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic. “Without the clinical program, I would not have gotten such robust, real-life legal training that also allowed me to help a member of our community.”  

Honoring the Past 

Maryland Carey Law is celebrating the anniversary of the Clinical Law Program with the investiture of the program’s co-director, Leigh Goodmark, JD, as the Marjorie Cook Professor of Law and a symposium focused on the role of law school clinics in helping reduce prison populations. An event in the fall will explore the future of clinics in legal education. 

The program has grown from one clinic in 1973 to the 18 today. Its roots reach back to the civil rights and legal services movements.

Peter Smith, notable for having argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1969 landmark case Shapiro v. Thompson, which ended residency requirements for welfare, directed the first clinic, giving students the chance to represent children in Baltimore’s juvenile court. 

From that propitious start, the program took off, expanding in the next two decades with the leadership of faculty who launched clinics in areas such as disability rights, health, elder law, bankruptcy, consumer protection, environmental law, and mediation, as well as one of the first AIDS legal clinics in the country and a groundbreaking interdisciplinary law and social work clinic. 

“From the beginning, our law school has been a recognized leader in clinical education and ahead of the curves in developing a comprehensive clinical program, requiring our students to take at least one experiential course, and integrating theory and practice,” said Michael Millemann, JD, a former program director and a leader in creating the program. “We have had the full support of six deans and all faculties since 1973, and great clinic leadership. We have only gotten better over the decades.” 

Continued Growth 

A turning point came in 1988 when then-U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, JD ’67 (D-Md.), and others led the charge for the Maryland General Assembly to allocate funds to expand the Clinical Law Program to allow the law school to guarantee a clinical experience for all full-time day students. Today, what is known as the “Cardin Requirement” makes clinic participation a graduation prerequisite for most students. 

“I am proud to have played a part in establishing experiential learning as a requirement in my alma mater’s curriculum,” said Cardin, now a U.S. senator. “The Clinical Law Program at Maryland Carey Law is a leading force in providing access to justice for the people of Maryland.”

That influx of support ignited further growth, and, in the next two-plus decades, many faculty joined the ranks, including Hutchins, who went on to co-direct the program in the 2010s with Michael Pinard, JD. These scholars launched or reinvigorated clinics in areas including immigration, public health, tax, gender violence, juvenile justice, post-conviction and sentencing, and re-entry. 

Through the years, the Clinical Law Program also has benefited from the expertise of practicing attorneys. Adjuncts bring their deep knowledge and expertise to clinics and have allowed the law school to expand the breadth of clinical offerings.  

By the Clinical Law Program’s 30th anniversary, the faculty had grown to 25. Today, more than 35 faculty and staff supervise 150 students providing around 75,000 hours of free legal services to the community each year. During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, that work continued largely via Zoom, email, and phone. 

“Our students dove into work created by the pandemic,” Goodmark said. “We filed lawsuits to try to get our incarcerated clients who were particularly vulnerable to the virus released and to address pandemic-related employment discrimination. We developed guidance for low-income people on what court closures would mean for them. We helped low-income taxpayers file for stimulus funding.” 

Looking Forward 

Recently, Maryland Carey Law has enhanced the Clinical Law Program with dynamic new faculty whose clinics focus on environmental law, justice for victims of crime, appellate immigration, and criminal defense. And while the law school continues to prioritize new and reimagined clinics, a strong trend in the past five years has been clinic collaborations like the Eviction Prevention Project (now its own clinic), which draws from specialties in multiple clinics to meet a specific need. 

“These recent innovations recognize that injustice and oppression — individual and collective — cut across systems and institutions,” Pinard said. “Reflecting on our Clinical Law Program in its 50th year, we know that we must coordinate our efforts and expertise to not only respond to our clients’ myriad legal and non-legal issues, but also to work with communities to uproot and dismantle the systems and institutions that wreak havoc on individuals, families, and communities in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. Deepening our collaborations is one mandate — of many — moving forward.”

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Wanda Haskel

Wanda Haskel is a communications specialist in the Department of Communications at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

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