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A white garage pained with William Mitchell Law Clinic on it near a house painted aqua behind it in an old photo
The William Mitchell law clinics started in a Grand Avenue house bequeathed to the school. Students painted the adjacent garage, shown in this worn photo, to point the way. (Submitted photo)

Mitchell Hamline marks 50 years of clinical education

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the clinical program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law was not something Roger Haydock foresaw when he helped launch it as one of the nation’s the first such programs in 1973.

Rosalie Wahl

Rosalie Wahl

But that’s what Haydock, a founding professor of the Mitchell Hamline Clinical Program, and other faculty, alumni and students will do on May 5. The law school in St. Paul will host a celebration of the clinical program after a presenting a “Wellbeing in Law” conference earlier in the day.

“It’s both exhilarating and terribly painful because I’m 50 years older,” Haydock said recently of the anniversary.

And bittersweet, Haydock added, because of the loss over the years of former students and colleagues, including Rosalie Wahl, the other founding professor of the clinical program and later the first woman to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The 17 clinics Mitchell Hamline offers today range from economic inclusion to patent law and tribal code writing. Students review cases for a state unit looking into possible wrongful convictions, help expunge criminal records and win pardons, draft contracts for nonprofit organizations and statutes for tribal governments, help entrepreneurs form new business entities and argue cases before courts.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary celebration, Haydock and other clinic leaders — professors Peter Knapp and Kate Kruse and retired professor Ann Juergens — shared memories and thoughts concerning the clinical program. (More information and registration links for the celebration and wellbeing program are available at the school’s website.)

Getting started

The program’s launch was a team effort, Haydock said, a confluence of the right administration, the right faculty and the right students. Many of those attending were professionals pursuing a second career and expecting more from their legal education, Haydock said.

Roger Haydock

Roger Haydock

“Imagine going to law school and never taking a course in really the pragmatic parts of practice, how to be how to be a lawyer, how to practice law,” Haydock said.

That changed in the fall of 1973 with the opening of the William Mitchell Law Clinic and its first four offerings, in criminal law, civil practice, welfare law and criminal appeals. Hamline University School of Law opened its first clinics a few years later; the schools merged in 2015 to become Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

The purpose of establishing the clinical program, as a complement to theoretical legal education taking place in the classroom, was twofold, Haydock said: Training students to become competent professional practitioners — working with real clients on real problems under the supervision of professors; and serving the legal needs of the community by providing representation to those unable to afford it.

“That was our mission,” Haydock said. “We did that well and we’re still doing that well, with different folks in charge now.”

One early challenge was finding space for faculty and clinic offices, William Mitchell’s building on Summit Avenue already overcrowded.

The solution came when a neighbor died and bequeathed his two-bedroom home to the school. The home, on Grand Avenue, was across an alley from the law school. Some students cleaned up and painted the interior and the garage, giving rise to rumors that the clinic was in the garage.

“We painted signs on the garage leading to the entry of the law clinic because when you would cross the alley you wouldn’t know that that [house] was the law clinic,” Haydock said. “It was just an advertising sign for us. We weren’t that desperate for facilities.”

Students often met clients at the law school, at legal services offices or at law firms in St. Paul or Minneapolis where adjunct professors worked, Haydock said. Bedrooms in the house served as offices while students found use for other spaces.

“We were the first clinical program we know for sure in the country that had a conference/party room in the building,” Haydock said. “The students liked to celebrate, so we did. We had fun.”

But also took their cases seriously. “We were not ashamed to say, we’re here to win,” Haydock said. “We want to be fair, reasonable and professional. But we want the client to be successful.”

Transforming legal education

Ann Juergens

Ann Juergens

Juergens, who joined William Mitchell in 1984 and retired as co-director of clinics in 2021, said the goal for her and other clinicians was “to transform legal education.”

“We were bringing issues from the community in so that our students have some exposure to them before they graduate and not just once they’re out in jobs,” Juergens said. “Students got to test their own values. Students learned a lot about themselves and where they would fit in best after law school and where the legal system had weaknesses, which some of them went on to work on.”

A high percentage of alumni have gone into public service, working in government, the courts, public defense, county attorney’s offices or nonprofits, Juergens said, “because of the ethics that clinics helped bring into the law school and continue to bring.”

Before working with clients, prospective clinic students had to read about skills they would need to use, watch videos of lawyers performing those skills and perform on their own in simulations, Juergens said, an approach that she was Haydoke was critical to developing.

“People thought we [clinical professors] had nerves of steel to let students do this,” on their licenses, Juergens said. “In fact, our students did fantastic work. They were so scared, so keyed up, they cared so much about getting a good result for the client that they were so much better prepared than anyone in the courtroom, and we helped them prepare.”

‘Heart and soul’

Peter Knapp

Peter Knapp

Knapp, who had worked at a St. Paul law firm before serving as co-director of clinics from 1989 to 2017, said he was drawn to clinical education in part because he missed that opportunity as a student.

“I had enjoyed the practice of law and wanted to make sure students had the same chance to enjoy that practice while they were in law school,” Knapp said. “Working with people who have legal problems and helping them solve those problems makes the learning in the classroom come alive and gives people a sense of purpose about what they want to do with their J.D.”

His strongest memories are of clinic students who went from uncertain at the end of the semester to finding that they, though perhaps still with some anxiety, could argue a case before the state Court of Appeals.

“It was something they could do; they could be lawyers,” Knapp said. “What we do in the clinic is part of the heart and soul of this institution.”

‘Groundbreaking’ training, policy mix

Kate Kruse

Kate Kruse

Kruse returned to the role of clinics co-director last year, one she had held at Hamline University School of Law before the merger, among some three decades of clinical experience.

The combination of individual client representation and public policy work make the clinic program “groundbreaking,” Kruse said.

The child protection clinic, for example, involves representing clients in those cases and efforts to improve the child protection system. The Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners clinic, similarly, provides legal services to incarcerated people while working with community groups that want to reform the criminal justice system and help shape the laws and policies that govern re-entry into society for those people.

“It’s this educational experience that’s so rich on both a justice and policy level as well as an experiential education, practical skills training level,” Kruse said.

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