Asked & Answered: Rachel Settlage on Wayne Law's Clinic Program

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By Steve Thorpe

Wayne State University Law School’s clinic program aims to help produce graduates who excel in both legal theory and practice. Employers are often looking to hire grads who have already worked on actual cases and have experienced the inner workings of the legal system. Wayne Law’s client clinics are directed by expert faculty members and provide hands-on casework to law students while simultaneously helping residents of the Detroit area. Associate Professor Rachel Settlage is the new Director of Clinical Education. She previously directed the Wayne Law Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic, and teaches Immigration and Nationality Law and International Women’s Human Rights.

Thorpe: Can you give us a brief history of clinic programs at American law schools?

Settlage: In the first wave of clinical legal education in the United States in the early and mid-20th century, most law school clinical programs were housed in outside “legal aid clinics” that served low-income populations. The Free Legal Aid Clinic, established by Wayne Law students in 1965, is an example of such an external clinic. FLAC remains in operation today as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, legal aid organization, in which students, working under the supervision of attorneys with Lakeshore Legal Aid and the Elder Law and Advocacy Center, provide legal representation to elderly and indigent clients in Wayne County.

During the second wave of clinical legal education in the 1960s and ‘70s, law schools began incorporating internal clinics into their curriculum, directed by faculty members. Most of the law school clinics created during this time focused on a social justice mission and the development of a robust clinical teaching methodology. The Clinical Program at Wayne Law focuses on providing legal representation and services to indigent or low-income clients in Michigan, and currently offers seven in–house clinics that cover a variety of legal areas.

Thorpe: What are the names of the clinics and the specialties they cover?

Settlage: We have seven in-house clinics, and four externship programs.

Our clinics are:

• Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic – This clinic provides students with the opportunity to represent individual clients seeking immigration benefits, in particular, asylum, relief under the Convention Against Torture, U and T visas for victims of trafficking and other crimes, and relief under the Violence Against Women Act for immigrant victims of domestic violence.

• Business and Community Law Clinic – The Business and Community Law Clinic is Wayne Law’s transactional clinic that provides legal services to Detroit-area entrepreneurs and small businesses. 

• Civil Rights Clinic – This clinic gives students the opportunity to represent individuals in matters arising under state and federal civil rights laws and the U.S. Constitution, with a particular emphasis on pressing disability and educational civil rights issues in southeast Michigan. 

• Criminal Appellate Practice Clinic – In this clinical course, taught by assistant defenders from the State Appellate Defender Office, each student prepares a criminal appellate brief on behalf of a real client incarcerated in a Michigan prison who has been convicted of a felony after a jury trial.

• Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer Clinic – The Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer Clinic is a medical-legal partnership between Wayne Law and Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center in which students offer legal assistance to low-income cancer patients receiving treatment at the center. Areas covered include insurance, housing, employment, long-term planning and public benefits. 

• Patent Procurement Clinic – As part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Clinic Certification Program, students gain experience drafting patent applications for inventors living in the state of Michigan

• Transnational Environmental Law Clinic – In partnership with the University of Windsor Law School, this clinic teaches students the skills and strategies needed to affect environmental policy in all three branches of state and federal government. Students work with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and take on a wide variety of regional and bilateral environmental legal issues such as air quality, environmental justice, Great Lakes water quality and quantity, invasive species and renewable energy. 

Our Externship Programs (in which students earn academic credit while gaining practical experience outside the Law School walls) are:

• Corporate Counsel Externship – Students are placed them in the corporate counsel offices of for-profit and nonprofit businesses in and around Detroit. These placements offer opportunities for students to encounter business clients. 

• Criminal Justice Externship – Students learn about the roles and responsibilities of criminal prosecutors and defenders, the judicial process in criminal cases, and strategic and ethical issues in criminal law. 

• Judicial Externship – Students learn about the roles and responsibilities of judges and judicial clerks, judicial decision-making and effective advocacy. 

• Public Interest Externship – Students learn about the roles and responsibilities of public interest lawyers, strategic and ethical dimensions of public interest practice, and effective advocacy. 

Thorpe: Law firms occasionally grumble that law grads are “too much theory, too little experience.” Tell us how clinics address that complaint.

Settlage: Clinics allow students to actually practice law, under the Michigan Student Practice Rule (Rule 8.120 of the Michigan Court Rules), but with a safety net in the form of faculty supervision. The clinics prepare students for real-world practice, combining weekly seminars with representation of real-world clients. Clinics allow students “first chair” experience in representing clients in a variety of legal areas. In the course of representation, students act as counselors in the truest sense of the word, advising on legal matters, representing clients in court and before various administrative and government offices, and experiencing firsthand the inner workings of the legal system.

Thorpe: How does a typical student integrate their classroom work with their clinic work?

Settlage: Traditional law courses provide the theoretical underpinnings for the law that students will need to master in their clinical experience and in their future practice. Each clinic includes a classroom component in which skills training and blackletter law combine, with a focus on the actual casework in which students are involved. In order to practice law at the highest levels, attorneys need to master law and legal theory, in addition to mastering legal skills and practice. Wayne Law’s clinics are directed by expert faculty members who help bridge the gap between theory and practice. 

Thorpe: Do you have any future plans for the clinics you’re ready to share?

Settlage: The clinics at Wayne have been doing incredible work throughout Michigan, filling in gaps in legal representation, particularly for marginalized communities. In my role as the director, I will be focused on ensuring that this work does not go unrecognized. I will be exploring new opportunities for our Clinical Program, to ensure that all Wayne students have the ability to participate, learn, and give back to the Michigan community. 

In addition, we have just come through a period of intense transition. In addition to my assuming the role of director this summer, we have hired three new clinicians: (1) Sabrina Balgamwalla who will direct the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic; (2) Anne Choike, who will direct the Business and Community Law Clinic; and (3) Rebecca Robichaud, our new assistant director for externships. All three come with extensive experience both teaching and practicing in their areas of law, and will bring exciting new opportunities for the work of the Clinical Program and for Wayne Law Students. 

 

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