What is Applied Legal Education?

For most of the 20th century American law schools were content to train students to "think like lawyers," leaving the job of training students to practice law to the workplace. In the early 1960's a handful of law faculty began small experiments in applied legal education through the development of legal clinics. The goal was to facilitate a reflective and experiential learning process without the economic and efficiency pressures of the workplace, and to help students understand how the law works in action while providing sorely needed pro bono representation to the poor.

In 1969, the Council on Legal Education for Professional Responsibility (CLEPR) was formed upon the notion that "applied legal education effectively places the practitioners-to-be in the chaos of real life; sharpens their skills in this context; teaches them to triumph over emotional stress and tensions as professionals; heightens their appreciation of quality standards of practice; shows them what it is to be people-oriented; enables them to help the machinery of justice function better by their presence as lawyers in training; and, above all, exposes them to the complexities and demands of justice on the level at which it operates."

With an 11 million dollar endowment, CLEPR soon awarded grants to 209 law schools to establish live-client clinics, effectively starting modern applied legal education. In live-client clinics, students provide direct representation to clients in a wide variety of substantive contexts under the supervision of a faculty member who is also a licenced attorney. The field soon came to include a significant number of "off-site" field placement programs in which students are simultaneously taught and supervised by law school faculty and practicing lawyers in the field.

The Need for CSALE

Since its modern "re-birth" in the late 1960's, applied legal education has taken a firm hold in the American legal academy. The American Bar Association now mandates that every law school offer its students "substantial opportunities for . . . live-client or other real-life practice experiences . . . designed to encourage reflection b y students on their experiences and on the values and responsibilities of the legal profession . . . ." The ABA also closely regulates both clinical and field placement programs.

Despite its proliferation, until CSALE's formation there was little empirical analysis of applied legal education. Program design, administration, funding, pedagogy, and the role of applied legal education and educators in the academy were, as an empirical matter, largely unknown. Scholars writing in and about the field had nowhere to turn for empirical evidence. The lack of data also hindered innovation and advancement because educators charting the course and texture of applied legal education in their home institutions had no concrete models from which to work. Since 2007 CSALE has been dedicated to filling this empirical void and, with its triennial survey cycle, creating a statistically sound picture of the evolution of applied legal education over time. You can visit the CSALE study page to read more about CSALE's survey. .