New for the 2023-24 academic year, Suffolk University Law School will offer a full-year clinic program for environmental policy and casework. The Environmental Law & Policy Clinic will have seminar and clinic work components for interested students. Suffolk Law joins Harvard Law School as the only law schools in the Boston area offering in-house environmental law clinics.
The clinic’s academic description establishes the clinic’s mission and focus areas, with particular emphasis on environmental regulation, policy, and legislation at the federal, state, and local levels. Legal Terrain caught up with Robert D. Cox, Jr., Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor at Suffolk Law, to learn more about the new clinic. The below has been edited for clarity.
Legal Terrain: Tell us about yourself, your career, and your role at the Environmental Law & Policy Clinic.
RDC: I am a practicing environmental lawyer in Massachusetts with over 35 years of experience. My entire career has been with one firm, Bowditch & Dewey LLP, in Worcester. While I know it is kind of unusual today for attorneys to work at just one firm, Bowditch has been a good place to work, learn, and practice environmental law. I served as Managing Partner for several years and remain “Of Counsel.”
I taught an environmental law survey course at Suffolk University Law School this past spring, and in my new role I will design, launch, and direct the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. This is a new clinic for Suffolk Law—its (lucky) 13th in-house clinic.
Legal Terrain: What was the impetus for creating the clinic now?
RDC: Student demand.
Legal Terrain: What areas of environmental law will be the clinic’s focus? The academic description highlights more policy and legislative work and less litigation. Is that how you see it?
RDC: Yes, its focus will be on policy/legislative work combined with project matters or case work on behalf of or in collaboration with area organizations, firms, and non-profits on matters typical to the environmental bar: air, water, and waste, c. 21E, and issues like climate change, environmental justice, agricultural policy, and public health.
Legal Terrain: How will the seminar work differ from the clinic work, or will they complement each other?
RDC: The seminar aspect is typical of law school clinical programs and is the classroom instruction component of the clinical program. Students will meet for two hours per week for the seminar. The seminar will focus on the substantive knowledge of environmental law and legal practice skills needed to perform the work in the clinic. Student casework in the clinic calls for a minimum commitment of 13 hours per week outside of class. So, yes, the clinic and the seminar will serve to complement one another. As it is a year-long program, we will have sufficient time to cover a lot of ground.
Legal Terrain: Will you teach the seminar? Do you see that as an extension of the teaching you did this last semester?
RDC: Yes, I will teach the seminar, and working with me is Practitioner-in-Residence, Cara Libman (Suffolk Law, 2019). We are lining up guest lecturers, too. I see the seminar to be somewhat of an extension of the course I taught this past spring, as half the student lawyers that will be in the clinic were 2Ls [LT: second-year law students] in the environmental law survey course I taught. But the seminar will also include practice skills (e.g., client interviews, case management) and procedure (e.g., administrative appeals) along with some deeper dives into substantive areas of environmental law.
Legal Terrain: Who will staff the clinic, and how do you anticipate working with and integrating other environmental professionals?
RDC: Well, the student lawyers will be doing the work, with supervision by me and Cara. We think it is critical for students to work with experienced environmental professionals—not just other environmental lawyers, but environmental engineers, wetland scientists, LSPs [LT: licensed site professionals], and policy/climate/resiliency specialists—as this sort of collaboration, in my view, is a core aspect of environmental practice and learning how to be an effective environmental attorney. Also, for some casework, senior law students may appear in certain courts on behalf of the Commonwealth or indigent persons under SJC Rule 3:03.
Legal Terrain: How will you determine community needs and project and case availability when choosing the clinic’s workload?
RDC: Cara and I have been reaching out to our contacts to identify community needs and prospective projects, which include environmental policy and legislative work. We will continue to plan and design the clinic over the summer months. We will ultimately make client/case choices or placements and will do so through the lens of student attorney learning outcomes. The clinic is not just about the services provided but about student learning. The clinical program goals are for students to demonstrate, by the end of the academic year, professional habits and judgment, an understanding of ethical obligations, fundamental lawyering skills and values, critical thinking, and cross-cultural competence, including client-centered lawyering, listening and non-legal language skills.
Legal Terrain: The academic description highlights that students in the clinic “will also learn about cross-cultural competency, inequitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens for people of color and lower incomes, explore their professional identities, and gain exposure to legal ethics in practice.” Will environmental justice be a large focus area? How will you incorporate it into the clinic’s work?
RDC: Yes, work on environmental justice (EJ) matters will be a big focus. As we plan the year, we want to make sure we advance community needs, and there are a lot of them in the environmental arena. American Bar Association Standard 303(c) for legal curriculum requires that “[a] law school shall provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism,” so we will be doing that as well. “[T]he importance of cross-cultural competency to professionally responsible representation and the obligation of lawyers to promote a justice system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in the law should be among the values and responsibilities of the legal profession to which students are introduced.” (ABA Standard 303 Interpretation 303-6).
Legal Terrain: How can people reach you if they want to work with the clinic?
RDC: Email me.
All of us at Legal Terrain welcome the clinic’s entry into the environmental law field and wish it success in its mission and in training future environmental lawyers.
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