Research clinic helps law students and the community

A new Legal Research Clinic supplies law students with the practical skills they’ll need in their careers – and provides no-cost legal assistance to local nonprofit organizations, public interest attorneys, low-income individuals and startup businesses.

An initiative of the Cornell Law Library, the Legal Research Clinic is a three-credit course (Law 7885) offered to second- and third-year law students. 

To our knowledge, the Legal Research Clinic is the first of its kind in the United States, and has the potential to become the model for others to follow. Its purpose is to fill a significant void that currently exists for those who need not ongoing legal representation, but specific answers to one-time questions best addressed by research. Often, for those who can’t afford an attorney, these questions go unanswered. 

The clinic accepts referrals of research problems through its website. Law students, closely supervised by a practicing attorney, conduct research, analysis and writing. 

The clinic also serves to prepare law students for the business of law practice. To this end, the course includes a strong case management component.  Using case management software, students are responsible for creating matters, conducting conflict checks, tracking their time and uploading and organizing documents in an orderly fashion. 

At the end of their coursework, clinic students enter the legal profession with not only practical skills but a strong commitment to contributing to civic engagement in the form of public interest law practice. 

The Cornell Legal Research Clinic was recently awarded an Engaged Cornell Development Grant, to grow the clinic within the Law School curriculum and formalize partnerships with the local community. The grant will provide the funds to hire a teaching fellow and an administrative assistant, allowing the clinic to more than double its capacity and enroll up to 15 students per semester. These students, in turn, will provide services to significantly more clients. The clinic will also further expand its services on an international level, providing legal research assistance to foreign judges to promote access to justice.

The selection of the Legal Research Clinic by Engaged Cornell underscores not only the need the clinic fills by providing pro bono legal research services, but its strong pedagogical basis in experiential learning.

This story originally appeared in the Cornell Law Library 2016 Annual Report