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Saturday, December 20, 2014

UNM law program among top in nation

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Law student Jason Wallace works on a proposal to approve a clinical appearance for the Second District Judicial Court at the UNM School of Law on Thursday afternoon. UNM’s law school has the ninth best clinical training program in the country, according to an annual
ranking by U.S. News and World Report. This is Wallace’s last semester at UNM before he graduates this spring.

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Only eight clinical law programs in the nation can claim to be better than the clinical education program at the UNM School of Law, according to a recent U.S. News and World Report ranking.

The University tops the 193 other law schools in the United States that were ranked by the survey. UNM jumped two spots from its 2013 ranking.

David Herring, dean of the law school since July of last year, said that clinical programs in law schools are designed to give potential future attorneys a taste of what the profession is like by allowing them to represent a live client in a real case.

“Students in the course are trained and they actually do represent real clients either in court, negotiations, or anything a client requires,” Herring said, “The students are being supervised by professional faculty, but they are providing the actual legal services to clients.”

Herring said during his time teaching at the University of Michigan’s law school, he was aware of and admired the clinical program at UNM. He said one of the things that sets the University’s program apart is its long-standing history of an outstanding program.

“This law school has been a leader in clinical education,” Herring said.“They were really one of the first law schools, and still one of the only law schools, to require students to take a clinic. All of their clinic faculty are tenure or tenure-track faculty, which is distinctive.”

This year, UNM ranked 72nd in the nation overall as a law school, down from its 2013 ranking of 64th. Yale University holds the title of best overall law school in 2014.

UNM’s law school has long been hailed as one of the biggest bargains when it comes to acquiring a law degree, especially when compared to bigger names, Herring said.

According to UNM website, a year of tuition and fees at UNM for a New Mexico resident is estimated at $15,701.00. A year of tuition and fees at Columbia University is estimated at $57,838.00, according to Columbia’s website.

Camille Carey, an assistant professor at the law school, has been assisting students in the clinical program for the past five years. She said that UNM’s clinical program is set apart by its many options and the interaction present between the differing sections of the clinic.

“We have a model that is unique and significantly more collaborative between clinic sections than most law schools,” Carey said. “We have five clinic sections. One is our Southwest Indian law clinic. We have a business and tax clinic. We have two sections of a community lawyering clinic, and then a law practice clinic.”

Carey said students in the clinic soon set aside any worries that they may have had going into the program and embrace the field and the doors it opens to them.

“I think they are originally pretty nervous about the work and the responsibility,” Carey said. “But once they start working with real clients, they get excited about their chosen profession and ability to help others.”

Jason Wallace, 25, is in his third and last semester at the law school in the clinical program. He said the program is a key factor in preparing him, as well as other students, for the professional world because it provides vital experience.

“The clinic is a great opportunity for law students in New Mexico that a lot of students elsewhere in the country don’t get,” Wallace said. “We’ll work under a supervising attorney who is licensed in the state and, through them, we’ll get to operate entire cases. I would say that working in the clinical law program sets us ahead of a lot of other law students.”

Wallace said that it is great to be attending a law school with both a highly acclaimed clinical law program and a humble tuition figure.

“To be able to attend a school that’s, first of all, one of the cheapest in the county, but that offers one of the top 10 practicing clinical law programs in the nation, that’s a great deal,” Wallace said. “I think that could easily be a reason why someone would choose UNM School of Law.”