A bill critics say will kill most law school clinics in Louisiana is scheduled for a hearing at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19, by the Senate Commerce Committee. Senate Bill 549 by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, has come under fire for allegedly being a tool of the chemical industry, which is tired of having to fend off — sometimes without success — lawsuits against polluters brought by law students on behalf of poor people.
Critics say the bill is really aimed at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, which has successfully sued polluters in the past. Tulane Law School operates six clinics, and opponents of Adley's bill say it would shut down four of them, including the environmental clinic.
Adley admitted to Gambit that his bill is aimed chiefly at the environmental clinic, which he says has "gone overboard" in suing government and businesses that have followed environmental rules. He adds that he has met with representatives from Tulane and Loyola law schools to discuss the bill and will introduce some amendments in committee to try to address their concerns. "I'm trying to strike a balance between good environmental policy and good economic development," Adley said, adding that he does not want to hurt the efforts of the law clinics in the areas of criminal law, domestic law and other non-environmental areas.
As originally introduced, the bill would prohibit law clinics whose universities receive state funds from filing suits against any governmental agency, or seeking money damages, or raising state constitutional issues except in limited circumstances. The bill also puts the law clinics, which give law students courtroom experience under the supervision of attorney-professors on behalf of indigent clients, under legislative oversight.
Any violation of the law would result in forfeiture of all state funds to the law school's university. "I don't think it's right for private universities to take public money and then use it to sue the state in ways that chase away jobs when we're doing all we can to bring jobs to Louisiana," Adley says.
Local law deans say the bill is too broad in its effect. "The bill purports to regulate legal clinics but would in fact cripple them and deal a serious blow to legal education in our state," wrote Dean Brian Bromberger of Loyola Law School and Interim Dean Stephen Griffin of Tulane in a letter to state senators. "While perhaps aimed at one clinic, the bill sweeps much further and would put nearly all law clinics in the state out of business, whether they are funded through public money or private tuition dollars."
Critics of the bill also say the Louisiana Supreme Court should be the sole supervisory authority over the practice of law in the state. Adley says he believes the high court has not done a good job of policing the clinics, even though it did adopt tighter rules for law clinics in 1999. — Clancy DuBos