About the CLPC
Washington and Lee University, the ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, was founded in 1749 as Augusta Acedemy, and renamed Liberty Hall in 1776. The School of Law has been consistently ranked among the top twenty U.S. law schools by U.S. News and World Report. Total enrollment is approximately 360 talented students, selected from across the nation in a very competitive admissions process.
The School of Law directly serves clients through several clinical programs. In addition to the Community Legal Practice Center (CLPC), the School serves clients both inside and outside our community through the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, the Black Lung Clinic and through partnerships with local Legal Aid offices and with local prosecutors.
The CLPC is a new clinic that has grown from a long commitment to serving the public and to serving the whole client. Founded in 1968 as the Alderson Legal Assistance Program, the clinic provided a wide range of legal services to the inmates of the Federal Prison Camp at Alderson, West Virginia.
The Alderson program was started by Professor Wilfred Ritz, who ran the clinic until 1985. Professor Roger Groot, also a former director of the clinic, has stated that "whatever we do for students, teaching them the practice of law can't compare to the tremendous difference we've made in the overall lives of so many inmates over the years."
The CLPC continues this traditional dedication to public service and to practice skills that address the full range of legal issues a client may face. Professor C. Elizabeth Belmont took over the Alderson program in January of 2001.
Under Belmont's supervision, students would provide the inmate client with fairly comprehensive legal services. Students helped inmates address sentencing issues, resolve pending criminal matters, and pursue administrative remedies for conditions of confinement issues. However, a significant percentage of the work tended to be for the common and often complex legal issues that all individuals face-- divorce, custody of children and financial and tax matters.
Students served a variety of clients, did independent analysis and worked to resolve matters with lawyers and with government officials. Belmont states that "the students listen to the client tell her story and learn to distill the legal issues and extract the information necessary to frame a legal problem." Moreover, the clinic gives students moral bearing, something Belmont is committed to fostering in the student's development as a lawyer. "Students are forced to confront the discontinuity between law and justice in this country, particularly for people who live at the margin."
In the summer of 2003, the School of Law established the CLPC with Belmont as its first director. The considerable clinical competencies developed by the Alderson Program would now be directed to serve the local Rockbridge area community. The clinic will serve specific client groups that are assessed to require assistance. Currently, services will be focused to help community members over age 60 who are unable to afford a private attorney and to help victims of domestic violence. The CLPC may also help clients outside these areas in cases of special need or educational significance.
"Before I became aware of the opportunity to work in the clinic, it hadn't occured to me that I could find work that would marry the part of the law I love-- problem solving-- with my desire to teach," says Belmont. "Students learn to be receptive, rather than make assumptions, and to work to understand the client's concerns from the client's perspective, and then attempt to resolve them." The client is the sole priority. The education simply accrues from a focus on serving the whole client.
All work is closely supervised by a licensed attorney and member of the School of Law faculty. The current team of student attorneys were selected based on their demonstrated legal skills and on their dedication to community practice. The full resources of the law school help students achieve the Center's goal of truly exceptional client service.
CLPC Administrative offices and student carrels are located in Sydney Lewis Hall, which is the home of the School of Law.
The Community Legal Practice Center received a grant for 2003 through 2004 from the Virginia Law Foundation.