McGeorge School of Law

A Valentine to Our Legal Clinics

April 27, 2020

Just before the California Governor issued the COVID Shelter-in Place Order, our legal clinics moved from their long-time location in the Muddox Building on Fifth Avenue. Their new location is in a free-standing, 4,000-square-feet building that provides them more comfortable space with greater visibility and access to the community that they serve, just around the corner from their previous location.

The relocation of our Legal Clinics has prompted reflection on their importance to the Sacramento community and to McGeorge. Over the last several decades, dozens of professors and hundreds of students have helped thousands of clients who could not have otherwise have afforded legal assistance. The Legal Clinics have also been central to training our students to become ethical, diligent, and effective legal advocates. McGeorge requires all of our JD students to participate in a legal clinic or externship as part of their graduation requirements, so that all of our students experience working with real clients to help them to address real legal problems.

In preparation for the move, while shredding and discarding old case files associated with clients the clinic has helped, the Director of our Legal Clinics, Professor Melissa Brown, wrote a moving email to her colleagues on Valentine’s Day, meditating on the important role the clinics have played in the lives of the people it has served. In sharing it with you, below, I want to thank all of the past and current students, staff, and faculty members who have worked in our clinics. I suggest to you that Valentine’s Day was not just a time to celebrate romantic love, but also a time to show affection and appreciation to the people in our lives who make a difference for the better, like those who have participated, or who are participating, in our Legal Clinics. Below I am pleased to share Professor Brown’s reflection.

Interim Dean Michael Colatrella

Professor Melissa Brown’s Reflection on our Legal Clinics’ Move

The legal clinics are moving this spring. As part of the move, we are going through closed files and shredding those that have passed our retention date. It has been a walk down memory lane; recalling the students, their clients, and the impact, they made in meeting the legal needs of our community. 

The work ranges from helping an immigrant women subjected to female genital mutilation obtain asylum, to the man forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills. Our elder law clients subjected to financial abuse, had their dentures stolen from the nursing home, or who have been given peace of mind by getting their affairs in order; all were provided compassionate and effective legal assistance by our students.

One of the most poignant files I reviewed was closed in 1996: a Will prepared for a young mother that named a guardian for her soon to be born child. She was not expected to survive the birth of her daughter because of her own, serious medical condition. She was receiving AFDC and would have had no other place to go for help had it not been for Community Legal Services at McGeorge. Our law school gave her peace.

As Blake and I said during our Diversity Week Presentation (The Culturally Proficient Lawyer-Beginning the Journey), because of the ubiquity and complex nature of law in our society, people are required to trust lawyers with their hopes, their fortunes, their rights, and sometimes even their lives.  How lawyers deal with those precious commodities is of extreme importance. We should strive to learn to really care enough about the human condition, as we refine and use our skills to improve the lives of others.

For decades, the legal clinics have tried to meet this ideal.  We have provided the opportunity for students to apply all of what you teach them to improve the lives of others. Students consistently share with me that it is a transformative experience. They gain not just legal and professional skills, but also appreciation of the importance of empathy and compassion. As we shared in our presentation, compassion is not weak; rather, it is the strength that arises out of seeing the true suffering in the world.  It allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in others or ourselves, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation and to act strongly with all the skill at our disposal.

Teaching skills is important, but we must also convey the importance of understanding and appreciating the human condition. In so doing, it allows our students to be whole lawyers and to practice their professional skills with the highest of ethical competence.

Reviewing all of these files, reminded me that each day, our students have a profound impact on the clients they serve. They are not winning awards or national competitions, but they are the person in whom their clients place the greatest trust.  The many bins shredded so far have been a physical reminder of the contributions our students have made to improve the lives of others.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Back to shredding. Oh, joy!