Clinical Program Ranks Among the Nation’s Elite

Deep partnerships within the local community, nationally known faculty members, and broad student offerings are a few of the likely reasons why the UC Hastings Law clinical program was ranked 19th nationwide by U.S. News and World Report.

Faculty members have built lasting relationships with the courts, nonprofits, and businesses to facilitate a broad range of clinical opportunities that allow students to work directly with clients, said Associate Dean for Experiential Learning and Clinical Professor of Law Gail Silverstein.

For example, students in the Medical-Legal Partnership for Seniors Clinic represent low-income seniors in advance health care planning, estate planning, public benefits, and pre-eviction matters thanks to the law school’s established alliances with medical professionals at UCSF and the Veterans Administration.

The school’s longest running clinic, the Individual Representation Clinic, puts students in the driver’s seat of a litigation matter, from the initial client interview all the way through the administrative or court hearing. The clinic partners with outside organizations such as the nonprofit Legal Aid at Work for case referrals.

Alexx Campbell, a staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work, said UC Hastings students are well prepared by their clinic professors to serve low-income clients in the nonprofit’s wage protection program, where they bring cases before the California Labor Commissioner. Representation by capable students in these matters is key since there are only three staff attorneys and one provisionally licensed lawyer helping dozens of clients—often non-English-speaking immigrants—in intensive engagements.

Students also participate in Legal Aid at Work’s general workers’ rights clinics, where they provide 30-minute consultations, answering questions and assessing workers’ individual situations. If the clients come back later needing help to prepare for events such as a settlement conference or unemployment insurance appeals hearing, the students are eager to volunteer their time.

“We’re always very impressed with students at Hastings,” he said. “We just wouldn’t have the capacity to assist the number of clients we do without the help of students from UC Hastings. They are really easy for us to plug into our clinic.”

UC Hastings offers seven in-house legal clinics, which operate like law firms and another nine field placement clinics, in addition to judicial, legal, ADR, and corporate counsel externship programs. Students may begin participating in the clinic and externship programs during their second year. Each clinic contains a classroom component and a field component. During the 2020-21 academic year 84 students engaged in our in-house clinics, serving more than 200 clients. Another 188 students participated in our field placement clinics and externships.

The school is able to offer students a broad range of real-world opportunities catered to the type of law they hope to practice, the skills they want to hone, the type of law office they want to practice in, or even location, with opportunities based in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

There are clinics focused on helping immigrants or children and clinics focused on criminal law, environmental law, worker’s rights, and mediation. One of the newest clinics, launched in January 2020, helps low-income taxpayers in disputes with the Internal Revenue Service and the California Franchise Tax Board.

“Students really enjoy their participation in a clinic or externship because it’s a different type of learning—you’re learning by doing. That engages students at a whole different level,” Silverstein said. “Students often tell us their clinic or externship was one of the highlights of their experience at law school.”

Clinical courses give students a greater understanding of law as it’s practiced—versus taught—and teaches them how to deal with different types of people who will be their clients someday. “Clients are human beings,” she said. “People are emotional, not just rational. Students need to work with the clients’ emotions. You won’t learn that any other place but a clinic or externship.”

Faculty members work hard to provide excellent clinical opportunities and keep the clinical programs running smoothly, especially during last year’s pivot to remote programming due to the pandemic.

The program’s exceptional faculty includes Professor Carol Izumi, who won a lifetime achievement award from the American Association of Law Schools, and Professor Alina Ball, the founding director of the Social Enterprise & Economic Empowerment Clinic.

Silverstein said she’s proud of her colleagues’ dedication and the impact the programs have had in the community.

“Our success as a clinical program is due to the relationships we’ve built with our communities, including clients, referral sources, our institutional partners like UCSF, and the courts. I am so proud of our ability to train the next generation of law students while providing critical legal help to the community.”