AALS Workshop for New Law School Clinical Teachers - Plenary: Clinical Supervision

Document Type


Publication Date


Conference / Event Title

Association of American Law Schools (AALS) 41st Annual Conference on Clinical Legal Education - Gathering Momentum: Learning from the Past, Responding to the Now, Planning for the Future

Conference / Event Location

Chicago, IL


This session, from two experienced clinicians, will build understanding of the framework and practices involved in clinical supervision. Using clinical seminar techniques, the presenters will emphasize the elements of supervision that involve the relationship between a particular client matter or client and larger issues of social justice, addressing the contexts that are inherent in each. Through the presentation and exercises, attendees will gain familiarity with supervision techniques that will enable them to use these techniques in conducting supervisions and analyzing their own supervision experiences.


Clinical faculty who teach in-house clinics and externship courses are facing profound challenges from outside and inside of our law schools. Many of our clients are in crisis, often due to or exacerbated by policies of federal, state, and local governments. We are grappling with threats to the rule of law and democracy while simultaneously trying to help our students understand these issues. Meanwhile, many of our law schools have experienced a diminished applicant pool, limitations in the supply of post-graduation legal jobs, and tightened budgets. At the same time, clinical faculty are increasingly tasked with finding new and creative ways to provide students with the experiential education they need to meet new ABA requirements, to find employment, and to become responsible and ethical members of the legal profession.

Experiential learning programs must navigate these rocky waters. Clinics and externships hold tremendous potential to enhance student learning while supporting many and varied communities and contributing to the improvement of the legal profession. Yet the times require us to develop strategies for responding to the intensity and variety of our immediate institutional, political, economic, and societal challenges. These strategies will benefit from efforts to learn from the past and to plan effectively for the future.

This conference will explore how we are responding to these current challenges, with a particular focus on the transferable teaching tools and techniques that we are developing in this unique environment. Because clinical faculty seek to teach students legal skills and address client and societal problems through various means—litigation, legislation, externships, community organizing, transactional work, and others—the time is ripe to ask a series of questions. These include: What tools, emerging from different clinical contexts, have been most effective in meeting present challenges and which are transferable to other contexts? Are there ways we might consolidate and combine different clinical approaches to strengthen our impact? What replicable teaching strategies are we using as we respond to present obstacles and crises? What relationships can our clinics develop with social justice movements? How do we adjust to a quickly changing legal landscape and how do we help our students do the same? How are we practicing self-care and helping our students learn balance and self-care in their own lives?

Among the ways that the conference will try to address these pressing questions is by putting them into historical context, exploring lawyers’ and clinicians’ responses to the abuses of power, system failures, and injustices of the past. What lessons can we learn from those past struggles that will help us with our current work? How do we avoid repeating past mistakes? How do we help our students understand and learn from the past as they face the social problems of today and tomorrow?

Finally, the Conference engages a recurring question that presents itself with new urgency in our current climate: how can we be responsive to emergent crises and also committed to a process of longer-range strategic planning?The conference therefore seeks to link our critical responses to current political, legal, and economic developments with processes for future-oriented planning. Evaluating the teaching and lawyering strategies we are using and developing is a key part of identifying changes that may be needed and deciding on next steps to take. How best can we undertake these evaluations? What roles should our clients and students play in a clinic’s evaluation and planning for the future? What barriers to programmatic change do we face and how do we overcome them? And, ultimately, how can we effectively balance the need to be flexible in an era of uncertainty with the need to chart a long-term course—within our clinics, within our institutions, and within the communities we serve?

This conference will offer a range of settings to explore these and other issues and questions. Speakers, plenaries, concurrent sessions, workshops, and scholarly works-in-progress will address them from different viewpoints and teaching models. Working groups organized around participants’ shared interests and expertise will provide spaces to share insights and perspectives. The goal of the conference is to help attendees gather momentum by developing ideas and strategies for teaching and lawyering in these extraordinary times, while learning from lawyering struggles of the past and helping to shape a more just and inclusive future.