A central theme of legal education continues to be the teaching of analytical skills through the study of appellate opinions. But the role of the lawyer extends beyond the legal principles and enacted law learned in the classroom. Much of the lawyer’s effort is spent in anticipating and preventing problems before they occur or in settling differences before they reach the courts. This phase of the lawyer’s education is difficult if not impossible to teach in a classroom. The Legal Aid Society provides the law student with an opportunity to assume a quasi-professional role, working with the same people and institutions with which he will work when he becomes a full-fledged lawyer.
Over 100 law students, about one-fourth of the student body, are actively involved in one or more of the Society’s programs. The Society is under the direction of a president, currently Bob Etienne ’70. Faculty adviser is Professor Jack Friedenthal; Assistant Dean Thelton Henderson is the Society’s administrative adviser.
Legal Aid offers a number of programs covering a broad spectrum of legal and law-oriented activities, including civil law, criminal law, administrative law, juvenile law, business, real estate and legislation. The programs are designed so that a student may participate in one or more activities, according to the dictates of his time and inclination. He may engage in general case work or detailed research on a test case or special project, or he may specialize in a particular field. Specific programs and their operation vary from time to time according to the success or failure of experiments as well as the interest of the students involved and the needs of the community.
The basic structure consists of a Civil Program and a Criminal Program, with some modifications based on the different administrations that are found in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Most civil programs are under the direction of Office of Economic Opportunity attorneys in six civil offices in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Most students deal with “intake” or “street” cases: bankruptcy, debtor-creditor relations, landlord-tenant relations, domestic relations and wage attachment procedures. Others work on theoretical legal research, community development, test cases and class actions in the areas of municipal services, employment practices, juvenile law and welfare law. For instance, in East Palo Alto, the East Bayshore Neighborhood Legal Center handles about 140 cases a month.
The student generally stays with a case from start to finish, taking part in the initial and subsequent interviews, doing research, drafting pleadings, negotiating settlements and following the case to court whenever possible. While most work in San Mateo County is done in Redwood City, students in East Palo Alto have drafted appellate briefs, mandamus petitions and class action complaints. A lawyer-teaching fellow, in addition to maintaining his regular caseload, supervises the students who work in East Palo Alto and assists in a Law School seminar on legal problems of the poor. A three-year grant from the Association of American Law Schools supports the lawyer-teaching fellow.
In Santa Clara County, students work under the direction of OEO attorneys at four neighborhood legal aid offices, three in San Jose and one in Sunnyvale. About 20 students work in Santa Clara County, some dealing with domestic relations, bankruptcy and wage attachments, others with test cases, community development and specialized legal research.
In Redwood City, half of the eight Stanford Legal Aid Society students work on intake cases. The other four work on community development and research to assist the law reform attorneys.
There are several criminal law programs in the Santa Clara County District Attorney-Public Defender project, which operates under a grant from the National Legal Aid Defenders Association. The NLADA made a grant to Santa Clara of $20,000 in 1968-69 and will give $10,000 in 1969-70, the county to make up the $10,000 difference. A senior staff attorney in each office supervises law students as they interview defendants and witnesses, draft pleadings and motions and do research. Students participate in courtroom procedures to the full extent allowed by law. The project lets students transfer from one office to another to gain a comprehensive view of the criminal process.
In the San Mateo County Assistant Defender Program, Society members work with court-appointed attorneys, doing investigation, interviews, research and drafting to aid in the defense of indigent citizens.
Also in San Mateo County is a Juvenile Defenders Program. Students interview juvenile defendants and prepare memoranda for their court-appointed attorneys; they also procure witnesses and appear in court as advisers to attorneys.
In Redwood City, under the auspices of VISTA, students interview indigents accused of criminal offenses, prepare data sheets and submit reports, which the judges use to determine whether or not suspects should be released on their own recognizance pending trial.
Members of Stanford Legal Aid Society have been active through the Association of California Law Students in drafting and presenting a proposed Student-Practice statute to the State bar, judiciary and legislature. The statute would allow student volunteers to participate more fully in legal aid programs by permitting them to appear in court for motions, summary arguments and some trials. Such statutes are in effect today in 19 states. The proposal provides for certification of students on the basis of moral character and amount of experience in legal aid work. To be certified. a student would have to have spent at least one semester in active participation in the Legal Aid Society.
In community education and community relations, the Legal Aid Society is interested in minority hiring and high school education about the law. Members of the Society tutor disadvantaged students who are attending Stanford under special programs. There is also a work-study program for minority youth during the summer. And students from the Society provide lectures to high school, union and church groups on consumer education and criminal law. A new program is designed to provide analysis of and briefs on selected bills before the California legislature.
Small businessmen and homeowners from minority groups obtain assistance from a financial advisory group formed by the Legal Aid Society in cooperation with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the Small Business Administration and local service clubs. Students assist small businessmen in establishing, expanding and improving local business. Other students are trying to design administrative and legal mechanisms to bring capital for both businesses and homes into poorer areas.
The Legal Aid Society has set up a Legal Aid memo file for the use of students, faculty and attorneys. The file contains material in poverty law, criminal law and civil and criminal procedure, including material originally published in the Continuing Education of the Bar’s “Legal Service Gazette,” the “Legal Aid Digest,” the National Legal Aid Defenders Association’s “Law in Action,” the old NLADA “Newsletter,” the CCH “Poverty Law Reporter” and the “Welfare Law Bulletin.” Also included are research memoranda by students, pleadings and briefs from poverty law test cases, court forms and sample pleadings.
Legal Aid Society members find that clinical experience puts casebooks in perspective. They begin their apprenticeship as early as their first semester in Law School. Although Legal Aid work may consume time which might otherwise be spent studying, students are expected to perform to their full capacity in classwork.
The public service orientation of the Society sometimes carries over into the students’ careers after law school. Some former members organized a group of volunteer lawyers in New York City; others work full time with the Office of Economic Opportunity. The large number of students graduating with legal aid experience provides the bar with new and transferable expertise.
The student volunteers, Stanford Law School and other law schools, the legal profession, and ultimately society at large should benefit from the educational innovation of the diverse group of students which calls itself the Stanford Legal Aid Society. In the sense of being appropriate to the matter at hand, the work of the Legal Aid Society is relevant to legal education, to the interests of many students and to some of the needs of society.