The University of Chicago Magazine

June 1997


Students Katherine Clark, Melissa Coughlin, and Hisham Amin gather their thoughts on the steps of the Cook County Criminal Court building.

KEVIN'S IS ONE OF ABOUT 150 cases in progress at the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, the Law School's largest clinical offering. The program lets students put theory into practice; provides free legal services for clients with few, if any, other advocates; and encourages faculty and students to take on serious social problems and legal issues. Cases may involve one client or hundreds; last a few months or a few years; and require relatively simple administrative hearings or complex litigation. Over the clinic's 40 years, some cases have changed Illinois law. Some have gone to the Illinois Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, even the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ask the experts what distinguishes Mandel from other university legal-aid clinics, and two answers keep popping up: seasoned clinical faculty and weighty, challenging cases.

Wallace J. Mlyniec, associate dean for clinical education and public-service programs at Georgetown University Law Center, describes Mandel's faculty as "clinical people and lawyers known throughout the country. They're all excellent, excellent people."

They're known nationally, but all seven have strong Chicago ties. Clinic director Randolph Stone, who first taught in the clinic from 1977 until 1980, was the Cook County public defender for three years before rejoining Mandel in 1991. The three other clinical professors--Gary H. Palm, JD'67; Mark J. Heyrman, JD'77; and Randall D. Schmidt, JD'79, all clinic alumni--have a combined total of 62 years teaching at Mandel. Clinical lecturers Conyers and John Knight, JD'88, now work alongside their former teachers. And lecturer Locke Bowman, JD'82, runs the MacArthur Justice Center, a nonprofit law organization affiliated with the Law School and the clinic.

One-on-one work with students learning primarily through real, not simulated, cases requires attentive, innovative teaching. As students graduate and leave, the faculty must provide the backbone to doggedly pursue each case along every possible avenue. And because Mandel cases often take on complex legal issues and require intense litigation, the faculty must be razor-sharp attorneys, honing and adding to their own skills as well as their students'.

"It is very easy to have students in a legal-aid clinic provide very routine legal services. To do simple divorces, simple bankruptcies, write simple wills, handle simple tax problems, handle simple landlord-tenant problems," says Law School Dean Douglas Baird. "There's nothing unworthy or unimportant about that, but we have always felt that the best kind of clinical legal education is a kind that not only does good, but also trains people in the law and gives them difficult legal problems, along with giving them insight into the way that this kind of work can promote social change."

Clinical education has a relatively long tradition at the Law School, where it was proposed in 1951 by U of C President Emeritus Edward Levi, PhB'32, JD'35, then the school's dean. The Mandel Clinic opened in 1957--a decade before most university clinics came into being with the social activism of the late '60s.

Begun as a joint project of the Legal Aid Bureau of Chicago's United Charities (now Metropolitan Family Services) and the Law School, the clinic was first housed at the bureau's Woodlawn branch and directed by one of its attorneys, Henry J. Kaganiec. When the new Law School building was completed in 1959, the clinic moved to campus. In 1970, Gary Palm, who'd been doing pro bono work while practicing with the Chicago firm Schiff Hardin & Waite, became Mandel's third director, agreeing to lead the clinic for the next two years. Instead, he stepped down after 21.

Palm transformed the Mandel Clinic from an extracurricular service into a for-credit educational program, a change that owed much to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 711, a 1968 decision allowing third-year law students to practice under an attorney's supervision. Meanwhile, recognizing that law was becoming both more complex and more specialized, Palm established several projects: discrete spheres of legal aid that provide the clinic's framework, and which change with changing times, needs, funding, and faculty interests. Acknowledging the attorneys' academic roles, in 1991 the Law School created the clinical faculty positions, which provide a form of tenure.

Along with its scope, the clinic's home also grew-from a small suite of offices in the Law School basement to three sprawling outposts. The clinic will reconvene in one home next year with the completion of the Arthur Kane Center for Clinical Legal Education, being built with a $3-million gift from Chicago attorney Arthur Kane, AB'37, JD'39, a specialist in worker's compensation law. The 10,000-square-foot building on University Avenue between 60th and 61st Streets will house offices for all the Law School's clinical programs, as well as meeting space and a clinical library.

For the moment, however, the clinic quarters are packed tight with papers and people. Faculty members share space with a social worker, several support staffers, about 80 law students, and two School of Social Service Administration students. At present, the clinic's work falls into six distinct projects: criminal justice, child support, mental health, employment dis-crimination, homeless assistance, and the MacArthur Justice Center.

Clinical experience is dominated by hands-on work--from library research to arguing motions--but also includes time in the classroom. Students can only enter the clinic after their first year, and because more want to participate than the faculty can reasonably teach, a lottery determines who can join. However, Stone says, most interested students can get clinic experience at some point. Students are assigned to projects based on clinic needs and their interests, and stay in those projects until graduation. To receive course credit, they must complete the Litigation Methods class and take the two-week Intensive Trial Practice Workshop.

Clients find the clinic through a referral, usually from a friend, a social- or legal-service organization, a judge, or a private lawyer. Stone estimates that the clinic accepts only one in ten cases; the rest are referred to other legal-aid services. Mandel assists clients who are poor; whose cases fit into a project area and concern a legal issue that students can learn from; and whose cases can most benefit from the time, people, and experience--greater than those of many public-interest lawyers--that the clinic has to offer.

Kevin's case came to the criminal justice project from the public defender's office, which, because of conflict of interest, could not represent both him and the other minor respondent. But Juvenile Court Judge Carol A. Kelly sentenced both boys identically, handing them to the Juvenile Department of Corrections after officials from the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services said they could not find an appropriate place for the two. It was an extraordinary decision, and a tough loss for the clinic: Never before in Illinois had children under 13 been incarcerated.

Since Kelly had made her ruling on the condition that the state provide the boys with intensive psychological treatment, the Mandel team arguing for Kevin's transfer to a locked residential facility must establish how to tell when a treatment plan is working, and prove that the state's plan for Kevin isn't.

Judge Kelly presides over courtroom 5. Court doesn't begin until 9:30 a.m., and the red leather chair behind her bench is empty. An orange sign taped to the front of the bench directs minors and parents where to stand; an observer considers aloud where minors who are parents should stand.

For now, Conyers and crew sit in the first row behind the defense table. All three students skipped classes to be in court today. The students wear suits in shades of gray and tan, marking them apart from the casually clad onlookers and the uniformed police officers. Jin, who'll do the cross-examination, reviews her strategy with Shah. Conyers and Waldman, who's responsible for the direct examination, whisper to each other, wondering when their witness, Bennett Leventhal, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the U of C Hospitals, will arrive. Monday night they'd held a dry run with Leventhal: He'll be testifying on Kevin's mental and emotional progress, or lack thereof.

When the judge enters, she doesn't waste time. The first five or six cases take less than five minutes each. Shortly after 10, Kevin's case is called, and the Mandel team comes to the defense table.

Conyers introduces herself, Waldman, Jin, Kevin's mother, and his aunt. Leventhal takes the stand, and the direct examination begins.

"Do you have an opinion on Kevin's progress?" Waldman asks Leventhal in a clear, firm voice, leaning against the table, looking relaxed but for the occasional tapping of a toe.

"It would appear that he hasn't made any," says Leventhal, adding, "There's some suggestion that he may have lost ground."

Occasionally checking against a handheld list of questions, Waldman asks the psychiatrist about the educational plan devised for the boy. More testing should have been done, he responds; the 14-year-old functions at only a second- or third-grade level. Later, Waldman pulls out a sheet of paper with Kevin's grades and asks, "If you were managing his case and saw this, what would you do?" Kevin's academic problems, Leventhal repeats, are related to behavior problems, problems that need to be addressed in a coherent, comprehensive manner.

From the records, Waldman asks, does it seem as if Kevin's caretakers regularly share information about him? No. Then she asks about an important caretaker: "The records indicate that he was not visited by a psychiatrist until November 1996?" An affirmative. About 45 minutes after she began, Waldman concludes, "No further questions."

The prosecution team consists of a Cook County assistant state's attorney, a juvenile-corrections lawyer, and an attorney for the Department of Child and Family Services, who cross-examines Leventhal for more than half an hour. A veteran witness, Leventhal takes control, even critiquing a line of questioning: "That's not the point you were trying to make." The judge decides they'll return to the hearing later--she needs to get through the rest of the day's docket first.

Flush with the success of her first courtroom appearance, Waldman plays it cool, but the energy in her eyes could power campus for a month. After a quick conference with Leventhal, who then departs, Conyers proposes lunch at a local hangout. "It's grease, just in different forms," she clarifies to the students. Having avoided breakfast, Waldman could use some food, while Jin fears eating before she goes on. Conyers is sympathetic, though not reassuring: "There's nothing like eating at Lulu's and having a hard case. If you're into S & M, this'll be a banner day."

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