What Is a Legal Clinic?

A legal clinic can be valuable work experience.

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A legal clinic, also called a law school clinic or law clinic, is a program organized through law school that allows students to receive law school credit as they work part-time in real (not simulated) legal service atmospheres.

In legal clinics, students perform various tasks just as an attorney would do in the same job position, such as doing legal research, drafting briefs and other legal documents, and interviewing clients.

Many jurisdictions even allow students to appear in court on behalf of clients, even in criminal defense. Most law clinics are open only to third-year law students, although some schools may provide opportunities for second-year students as well. Legal clinics are generally pro bono, i.e., offering free legal services to clients, and supervised by law professors. There is usually no classroom component in legal clinics. Participating in a legal clinic is a great way for students to gain hands-on experience before heading off into the job market. Legal clinics are available in many areas of law, including but not limited to:

  • Community legal services
  • Criminal law
  • Elder law
  • Environmental law
  • Family law
  • Human rights
  • Immigration law
  • Tax law

Here are some examples of renowned clinics at law schools across the nation:

Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project is a great example of a law clinic dealing with criminal justice.

The Three Strikes project provides representation to convicts serving life sentences under California’s three strikes law for committing minor, non-violent felonies. 

One of the many clinics at University of Texas Law School is the Immigration Clinic. As part of the Immigration Clinic, law students represent “vulnerable low-income immigrants from all over the world” in federal courts before the Department of Homeland Security.



Georgetown University Law School’s clinic offerings have earned it the number one ranking for “Best Clinical Training”. Ranging from Affordable Housing Transactions to Social Enterprise and Nonprofit clinics, the majority of Georgetown University Law School’s clinics involve extensive engagement with the D.C. community. One highlight of their offerings is the Center for Applied Legal Studies, which represents refugees seeking political asylum in the United States due to threatened persecution in their home countries.

Lewis and Clark Law School has an International Environmental Law Project clinic that allow law students to work on real-world environmental legal issues. Past projects have included working with groups to protect endangered species and working to create new laws to protect the environment.  

At Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, students help clients who are appealing their cases in the Seventh Circuit and the United States Supreme Court through the Appellate Advocacy Center clinic.

There are even clinics that work solely on cases associated with the highest court in the country: the Supreme Court. Supreme Court clinics can be found at Stanford Law School, New York University Law School, Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, University of Virginia Law School, University of Texas Law School, Emory University Law School, Northwestern University Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Southwestern University Law School.

Supreme Court clinics write and file amicus briefs, petitions for certiorari, and merits briefs.  

Legal clinic offerings vary greatly in both number and type by school, so be sure to investigate carefully while choosing a law school.

Legal clinical experience is highly recommended for law students; it looks great on your resume plus it gives you the chance to try out an area of law before committing to it in a full-time job.

Legal Clinics in the News

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Fabio, Michelle. "What Is a Legal Clinic?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-legal-clinic-2154873. Fabio, Michelle. (2017, June 21). What Is a Legal Clinic? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-legal-clinic-2154873 Fabio, Michelle. "What Is a Legal Clinic?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-legal-clinic-2154873 (accessed January 22, 2018).