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Clinical Legal Education

Vanderbilt's clinical legal education program provides students an opportunity to learn both the theory and practice of law in context. Vanderbilt's clinical programs allow students to gain an understanding of the legal system and its participants and an appreciation of issues of professional responsibility. Clinical courses are offered for academic credit on a pass/fail basis, and students may enroll for one or two semesters.

Within the clinical program, students have the opportunity to represent clients in state and federal court, to represent clients in transactions or to complete substantive research in support of international institutions, domestic government agencies or international tribunals. All students work under the close supervision of a faculty member.


Clinics involve a significant time commitment. On average, clinic students are expected to devote approximately eight hours per week to casework, although workloads vary considerably during the semester with a substantial time commitment required when a case becomes particularly active.

Clinical courses provide students the opportunity to understand the role of the lawyer, to hone their legal skills and to delve into a particular area of law. Because they assume the role of lawyer, students begin to understand more fully the expectations and responsibilities of that role.

In the past few years, among other cases, clinic students have won cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, have won a post conviction case on behalf of a client who was convicted of murder, have obtained orders of protection for victims of domestic violence, have appeared before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and have assisted in major prosecutions around the world.

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Students with Prof. Newbern at courtNate Pysno, Russell Burke and Samara Spence (l-r) worked as a team to prepare the argument for a federal habeas case, McPhearson v. United States, and Burke was able to make the argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit under its student practice rule. Pysno, Burke and Spence are students in the Appellate Clinic, taught by Alistair Newbern (far right) in spring 2012. The opening brief in the case was written by Alison Davis, Thaddeus Lenkiewicz and Laura Carlisle, all members of the Class of 2011, and John Arceci '12 wrote the reply brief. “The case is about whether a judge must consider whether some portion of an amount of drugs were actually for personal use when a defendant is convicted of possession with intent to distribute drugs,” Newbern said. “We argued that the judge must do so.”