While William & Mary Law School was the first in the nation, it is not tied to practices of the past. In fact, the school is at the forefront of legal education. Although the goal of preparing students to become citizen lawyers who serve their communities with distinction has not changed, the opportunities for students to learn while serving others have increased tremendously since the law school’s doors opened in 1779.
Participation in one of the 10 different legal clinics is a way that second- and third-year law students can engage with the community and gain practical experience while in school. Recognizing the importance of this mission, James A. Hixon J.D. ’79, M.L.T ’80 provided the lead gift for the James A. and Robin L. Hixon Center for Experiential Learning and Leadership, which is now the home to all of the clinics.
The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic was created in 2008 and named after Lewis B. Puller ’68, J.D. ’74. Puller was an officer in the United States Marine Corps, a practicing attorney and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Puller’s law school classmates commemorated his memory by donating to the clinic and naming it after him for their 35th reunion. Recognizing the importance of the work that the clinic does, the General Assembly also provides funding to support it.
Students and faculty in the Puller Clinic help veterans receive compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In the past 12 years, the Puller clinic has assisted veterans in receiving over $25 million in lifetime benefits.
In an effort to become more accessible, the Puller Clinic started Military Mondays, a program that allows veterans to stop by a local Starbucks on Monday afternoons to consult with the Puller Clinic’s team. This idea has been used as a model for other law programs and there are now Military Mondays in cities all over the United States. Reflecting the hard work of the clinic, William & Mary Law School is ranked No. 2 on the list of Top 10 military-friendly graduate school programs in G.I. Jobs’ 2020-2021 ranking.
The Special Education Advocacy Clinic, a part of the Parents Engaged for Learning Equality (PELE) initiative, was also established in 2008. This clinic focuses on improving the experience of special education students in schools. By collaborating with schools and families, the Special Education Advocacy Clinic works to create communities that provide the best resources possible for their students.
This clinic hosts the annual William & Mary Law Institute of Special Education Advocacy Summer Conference. This five-day program provides training to attorneys, advocates and law students on how to best support special education students. Peter W. Wright and Pamela D. Wright have supported the clinic and conference from the start. Their expertise in special education advocacy has been invaluable to this vital clinic.
The newest clinic at the law school is the Immigration Clinic, which started in 2019. Students and faculty who work in the Immigration Clinic help noncitizens with the immigration process, study policy research, and advocate for immigration policy. This new clinic engages students and pushes them beyond the law curriculum, as many students have to navigate language barriers and ever-changing immigration laws.
According to Professor Stacey Kern-Scheerer, through work in the Immigration Clinic, “The students have experienced first-hand the highs and lows of practice and have grown as advocates and problem-solvers in extraordinary ways.” Although it is new, students working in the Immigration Clinic already have helped many members of the Hampton Roads community.
Other clinics at the law school also provide students with opportunities to represent real clients in actual cases:
- The Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic focuses on First Amendment (free speech and religion) and Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) cases in various federal courts of appeals.
- The Domestic Violence Clinic provides students the opportunity to interview victims and witnesses, provide advice and counsel to those victims, and represent them in court.
- The Elder & Disability Law Clinic assists clients in creating plans to deal with current legal and financial issues and prepare for the future and in drafting the necessary documents to carry out those plans.
- The Family Law Clinic offers students who have their third-year practice certificate the opportunity to represent and advise clients of limited financial means from the Williamsburg office of the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia (LASEVA) in divorce, custody, support and equitable distribution matters.
- The Federal Tax Clinic teaches students federal tax practice and procedure in order to assist in the representation of low-income Virginia taxpayers.
- Innocence Project Clinic students participate in the legal investigation and research of inmate claims of actual innocence. Using primary sources, including police and forensic reports, court pleadings, transcripts, appellate briefs and opinions, students research and prepare written summaries of the cases referred to the Clinic by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), and their analyses of cases are used as a basis for MAIP to determine which cases to undertake.
- At the Virginia Coastal Policy Center, students develop project management, research, collaboration, and oral presentation skills, and engage in science-based legal and policy analysis of ecological issues affecting the state's coastal resources.
The impact of the law clinics on clients and students is exceptional. The clinics are an important part of a William & Mary Law School education and help students graduate with practical, real-world experience in a variety of pressing issues. More information about all law school clinics can be found at law.wm.edu/clinics.