Yale Law School students have been lending their expertise to legally troubled New Haven residents through a variety of legal clinics offered as classes at the Law School.
Under the supervision of faculty members, including law professors Robert Solomon, Stephen Wizner and Carrol Lucht, students provide counsel and even bring cases to trial through their work in the Law School’s clinics for community lawyering, housing and community development, immigration and other types of law.
“Many of the clinics have about 20 students, and some clinics have existed for decades,” clinic participant Max Weinstein LAW ’05 said.
Weinstein said working in the clinics is valuable for students as well as the community members they help.
“I think representing people who cannot afford legal assistance is extremely rewarding,” Weinstein said. “I can say without a doubt that you have a tremendous influence on the lives of your clients — The impact on New Haven, as a community, I think, is extremely positive.”
Solomon, a faculty supervisor of the community lawyering clinic, said the clinics often serve members of the New Haven community who would not otherwise be able to afford legal services.
In recent months, Solomon’s clinics have attracted attention for working with the city of New Haven as it negotiated with the New Haven Savings Bank over its transformation into a public corporation. Students under Solomon’s supervision in the community lawyering clinic have also represented low-income former Yale-New Haven Hospital patients, suing the hospital recently over alleged aggressive debt-collection policies.
Weinstein, who said he has been involved in the community lawyering, landlord/tenant and prisoner legal services clinics, said he appreciates participating in such hands-on courses.
“I was very attracted to the idea of a legal clinic,” he said. “Legal education is mostly non-clinical in contrast with medical school, which is primarily clinical — The kind of clinics I’ve been involved with [at Yale] are great clinics to be in if you have a political and moral commitment that everyone deserves representation, regardless of their income, which I do.”
Solomon said students in the community lawyering clinic spend at least two hours a week doing “outreach,” which involves meeting with community members at one of three sites. He said the clinic does not take criminal cases, but will accept civil cases in which they have a “decent amount of confidence.”
Solomon said students in his clinics are motivated by a variety of factors.
“People take [the clinics] for all different reasons,” Solomon said. “Activists take it, but those who take the clinic are not all activists.”
Marie Rivera LAW ’05, also a participant in the community lawyering clinic, said she became involved in the clinic in part because of its partnership with Junta for Progressive Action, a Fairhaven-based social services organization that caters primarily to Hispanics. Rivera, who was born in Puerto Rico, said her work in the clinic has personal importance.
“Unfortunately, a lot of Hispanics, because of language barriers, get taken advantage of a lot,” Rivera said. “It’s really frustrating, so it’s personal for me.”
Solomon said the Law School’s clinics are unique because Connecticut is the only state in the United States that allows law students to practice law — under faculty supervision — after their first semester of law school. He said law students participating in the clinics have argued before the U.S. District Court, in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and in Connecticut Superior, Appellate and Supreme Courts.