This essay describes the potential for law school clinics to serve as sites of empirical research to answer pressing questions about delivery of legal services in low-income communities. With others, we have noted the research imperative in legal services, made the case for infrastructure to support such research, and advocated renewed ties between law school clinics and legal services programs. For reasons set forth in the paper, now is an opportune time for clinics to contribute to a growing civil justice research agenda. We call this opportunity the “Clinic Lab Office.”
In Part I, we map the common origins and current landscapes of the legal services and clinical legal education movements. The movements have drifted from their early, common agendas in order to achieve a measure of stability and security. In Part II, we identify the need for civil justice research to inform a complex, decentralized legal services delivery system. We lack critical information about the demand, supply, and efficacy of existing models, but new national efforts bode well for the future of such research.
In Part III, we argue that law school clinics are well positioned to undertake empirical research and provide examples of some early projects. Clinics have much to offer legal services in the research dimension and much to gain. Such engagement can improve clinic work, deepen student learning, and make a distinct scholarly contribution. We conclude by identifying challenges to realizing the full potential of the Clinic Lab Office.
- law school clinics,
- legal services,
- access to justice,
- evidence-based practice,
- civil justice research