December 17, 2009

CARDIN INTRODUCES BILL TO EXPAND LAW STUDENT PARTICIPATION IN LEGAL CLINICS

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced legislation that would increase opportunities for law students who work for the federal government to participate in legal clinics, helping more Americans gain access to qualified legal guidance and expanding students' experience in federal law. S. 2888, the Law Student Clinic Preparation Act of 2009 , would allow law students who work for the federal government to participate in legal clinics in which a case may be brought against the United States or a substantial U.S. interest. 
 
"Unfortunately, many low-income Americans do not have access to justice. They may be battling to keep their home from foreclosure, trying to sort out veterans benefits with the VA or tax issues with the IRS, but they can't afford to hire a lawyer or obtain legal assistance during a serious time. This legislation takes a step forward in closing this gap by expanding the number of law students eligible to volunteer their services at legal clinics," said Senator Cardin.  
 
"Federal employees who are law students - not an uncommon occurrence in Maryland or around the country - face unintended obstacles when trying to provide legal services to those in need. Unlike other law students, must choose from a smaller selection of clinics due to the current federal conflicts of interest law. And if federal-employee students seek careers in practice areas where federal law predominates, they likely will obtain no practical clinic experience in law school. This is not good for the student or the causes and clients they will champion in the future, including the federal government."
 
Senator Cardin is the former chairman of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation and namesake of the "Cardin Requirement" at the University of Maryland School of Law that requires every full-time, first-year law student to provide pro bono legal assistance as a requirement of graduation. According to the University of Maryland School of Law, "the Cardin Requirement results in more than 250 students contributing over 110,000 hours of free legal service annually, making the Clinical Law Program one of the largest public interest firms in Maryland." Senator Cardin chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Providing Civil Legal Assistance to Low-Income Americans in May 2008.
The Law Student Clinic Preparation Act of 2009 creates exceptions to federal conflicts of interest law which generally prohibits federal employees from acting as an attorney or agent in a matter adverse to the U.S. government.  The legislation directs the exceptions to federal employees attending law school and participating in legal clinics and employees of the District of Columbia who staff legal clinics. Where the federal employee has participated personally and substantially in the matter or the matter is before the employee's particular agency or department, specific conflicts of interest provisions still apply.