I genuinely believe all law schools make a significant effort to serve their local communities, and I am convinced we succeed. Our legal clinics provide hundreds of thousands of hours of free legal services each year to people who could not otherwise afford such services, and our externship students support our local, state, and federal governments and scores of non-profits. Our scholarly work advances the law in myriad ways, and our faculties volunteer their time to serve our society.
As those of you at public universities well know, however, public higher education faces particular pressures to justify its public funding by demonstrating relevance and positive contributions to state and local economies. The West Virginia University College of Law has added two new legal clinics (bringing its total to nine clinics), both of which are designed to contribute directly to economic development in the state of West Virginia. In a region that has long relied on the fluctuating fortunes of a single economic resource—coal—this work adds direct value to the state.
The law school’s new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic (EILC), directed by Professor Priya Baskaran, provides transactional assistance to West Virginia’s small businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and burgeoning entrepreneurs. All the work is pro-bono, of course, and the clinic exclusively serves West Virginia clients. By working with individual clients and also supporting community business efforts, the clinic helps shape the business climate of West Virginia. The clinic, for example, provides legal services and training to new entrepreneurs and community organizations that work to address poverty.
The law school’s new Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic (LUSD) also aims to help West Virginia communities meet their economic goals. Under the direction of Professor Kat Garvey, the LUSD delivers conservation, municipal planning, and land use strategies to local governments, landowners, and nonprofit organizations. The clinic’s conservation focus helps preserve West Virginia’s natural beauty and enhance the tourism industry. Because many communities in West Virginia are small and don’t have professional staff to tackle land use issues, the clinic works with officials to develop comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. And these comprehensive plans are essential—not just to helping communities grow and prosper—but to helping communities persevere after a disaster. In 2016, much of West Virginia was devastated by floods, but, according to Garvey, communities with comprehensive plans not only knew how to rebuild, but also were in a better position to receive grants to fund that effort. Now, building on common concerns throughout the region, LUSD is helping communities work together by creating the state’s first regional comprehensive plan.
These and WVU’s seven other legal clinics show students “that lawyers are important to people and communities and train them to practice law,” says Gregory W. Bowman, Dean and Professor of Law, but they also “make the West Virginia University College of Law critically important to its state and the region.”