ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico School of Law stuck a feather in its cap recently after U.S. News & World Report ranked one of the school’s programs ninth best of more than 200 in the nation.
The Clinical Education Program requires all third-year UNM law students to represent actual clients in court. Working under faculty supervision, students have appeared in Metropolitan Court, district courts, tribal courts, the New Mexico Court of Appeals and the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Nationwide, the American Bar Association lists 203 law schools as accredited, including UNM.
“Clinical legal education is growing in importance and relevance to successful entry into the profession,” said Law School Dean David Herring. “As law schools around the country try to enhance their clinical offerings, it is important to be a leader in this area.”
UNM was one of the first law schools in the nation to create a mandatory, in-house, live-client clinic where students earn law school credit while representing real clients under the supervision of tenured and tenure-track faculty, the school said in announcing the U.S. News & World Report ranking. That was back in 1970.
In the clinics, students work in multidisciplinary teams in one of four focus areas: Business & Tax, Community Lawyering, Law Practice and Southwest Indian Law. One young lawyer who speaks highly of the program is Sophie Martin, who graduated last year. She chose the Law Practice focus area because, she said, “I thought it would give me a broad exposure to different kinds of lawyering.” She also wanted to appear before a judge at least once before completing law school.
“You spend two-and-a-half years talking about how you’ll be, going to court,” she said. “I would’ve been terribly disappointed without that experience. Anyway, you’re protected. The professors won’t let you mess up.”
Her clinical education experience involved a kinship/guardianship case in Family Court. And even though she doesn’t practice family law, many of the issues she faced then arise all the time today, she said.
Martin practices consumer law, business law and civil litigation with the Law Offices of Brian Thomas.
Overall, the UNM School of Law is ranked No. 72 by U.S. News & World Report. The Yale, Harvard and Stanford law schools, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the list, all charge more than $52,000 per year. No. 4, Columbia University, charges nearly $58,000. In contrast, a year’s tuition for New Mexico residents at UNM is $16,250.
Leading the way in the magazine’s Clinical Education category are Georgetown University at $51,000 per year, New York University at $54,700 per year and American University at $48,150 per year.
“We are proud of our long tradition of serving as national leaders in clinical legal education,” said April Land, associate dean for Clinical Affairs at UNM. “We look forward to providing each of our law students with the opportunity to serve clients and our community.”