AALS Clinical Section Virtual Conference

The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) welcomed 475 clinic faculty from around the country to its 2020 Virtual Conference, July 21-23.  CLEA called on clinic faculty to join together virtually this unprecedented moment.  To view the conference program guide, please click here. To view the poster presentations, please click here.

CLEA’s call for proposals drew a large response from clinic faculty around the country.  The call: 

Streets are filled with protesters rising up in response to horrific and ongoing systemic racism manifested by the continued attack on black and brown lives, and the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily reality. This has and will impact our professional and personal lives in critical ways. We are called upon as clinical faculty to reflect on and approach our pedagogy and practice differently. We are in new territory trying to determine the best way to run our clinical programs with the need for all or some of our teaching, services, and advocacy to be delivered remotely. We must re-examine the best way to teach about racial injustice and leverage clinical resources to take action to bring about real, lasting change. With these challenges and the inability to connect in-person, it is our goal to build community, draw on our collective wisdom, and provide a forum for discussion.

The virtual conference included plenaries, affinity group discussions, and larger discussion formats.  The opening plenary, Facing New Suns: Futuristic Lawyering for Black Liberation (“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” – Octavia Butler) brought together Rasheedah Phillips (Featured Speaker) and Norrinda Hyat (Rutgers).

The Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the days and weeks following the public murder of George Floyd signal a remarkable shift in the landscape of modern social movements. A New York Times article, published on July 3, remarked that at the peak of the protests, on just one day June 6, half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the United States. And, also, that an estimated 15 million to 26 million total people in the United States have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and other black people since May making this “the largest movement in the country’s history.” 

Some of our students and clients have now spent months in the streets advocating for an end to the status quo, a status quo that is strengthened by the curriculum and structures of most, if not all, law schools. Central to these calls are a rejection of incremental reform. In place of conformism, the protesters are calling on America to imagine, in real time, a world without police, prisons, war, or capitalism. The writings of Angela Y. Davis remind us that the abolition of systems of oppression is both a negative and positivistic project. As for the latter, the protestors call for affirmatively imagining a country with healthcare, housing, education and freedom for Black and Latinx people

As teachers of and lawyers for many of the individuals and organizations marching, this moment calls for clinicians to “decolonize our imaginations,” as Walidah Imarisha sets out in the introduction to the Afro-futurist collection of short stories Octavia’s Brood. This plenary employs the tool of speculative fiction and the lens of Afro-futurism to motivate in each of us the process of “decolonizing” clinical legal education and clinical practice. Afro-futurism has been described as “an art form, practice and methodology that allows black people to see themselves in the future despite a distressing past and present.” Radical speculative fiction explores the connections between art and movements for social change. Speculative fiction is not new. W.E.B. Du Bois’ short story, The Comet, imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which the sole survivors are a black man and a white woman. In 1972, the MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellow Ishmael Reed wrote the canonical Mumbo Jumbo. The modern godmother of this genre, Octavia Butler, wrote her first of 13 books imagining a better future for black people in the diaspora, Patternmaster, in 1976. Radical speculative fiction’s application in the law is also not contemporary. In 1992, Professor Derek Bell merged radical speculative fiction and the law in his now iconic essay Space Traders. Following in the footsteps of DuBois, Butler and Bell, by looking to the creative, this plenary queries the role of clinical legal education in facilitating the future our clients are imagining and urges us to expand our notions of what is possible to stand in solidarity with our students, the protesters and organizers for black liberation through our teaching, advocacy and scholarship. 

The second panel, Black Lives Matter and the Future of Clinical Legal Education, included: presentations by: Desiree Mims (Black Organizing Project), Alexi Freeman (Denver), Nicole Smith Futrell (CUNY), and Renee Hatcher (UIC John Marshall), Donna Lee (CUNY), Oscar Lopez (East Bay Community Law Center) 

Finally, the closing panel, Top 5 Tips for Teaching Clinic Online, featured a presentation by Michele Pistone (Villanova) 

Thoughts, discussion, and ideas for further engagement from the CLEA virtual conference are welcome!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: