by Thomas Lovecchio
Last year at the 10th Annual Dean’s Diversity Forum the topic was Economic Justice: Dignity Through Opportunity. The Forum explored how lawyers could create economic opportunities for low income individuals. Economic Justice is “a set of moral principles for building economic institutions.” Investopedia, Definition of ‘Economic Justice’ https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economic-justice.asp. An example of this is the tax system in the United States, where one is taxed at a higher percentage if they are in a higher income bracket. Id.
A great place to teach future lawyers about developing economic justice is right at home where they are being taught, at law school. This can be done through clinics. In law school “[s]tudents are drawn to particular clinics because of the clinics’ social justice missions.” Lynnise Pantin, The Economic Justice Imperative For Transactional Law Clinics, 62 Vill. L. Rev. 175, 177. Lawyers are often seen as the larger than life litigator advocating for social justice and often over looked is a lawyer’s advocacy in transactional practice. Id. at 178-79. Economic issues that have been examined through economic justice involve numerous transactions, such as, insurance coverage and lending practices. Further, other daily financial aspects that are not traditionally seen as transactional involve a financial advisor or broker that still involve economic justice. Due to this, economic justice for clinics should extend beyond the traditional transactional sense. With this law schools need to do more than teach “solely for the technique of practice” because students would then have no sense of how economic justice impacts daily economic decisions. Id. at 181
Law schools often have to decide between the historical approach to clinics versus the “practice-readiness of their graduates.” Id. at 189. This leaves those in charge of developing clinics faced with a tough decision. It may be because I am not too familiar with the intricacies of clinics, but I do not see a reason as to why a clinic could not encompass both the historical approach and practice readiness. By including economic justice as a goal of a transactional clinic, law schools could adhere to the historical approach of clinics, with some type of social justice because economic justice is sometimes seen as a subset of social justice. Including economic justice as a goal of a transactional clinic, law schools could adhere to the practice ready approach because having an understanding of how economic justice factors into transactions is something that would be valuable to any client.
An argument not to include social justice here is that having students “ready for practice supersede a social justice curriculum.” Id. at 193. This argument fails to consider that one can include economic justice into a business curriculum and still have practice readiness supersede it. Law schools could decide on a school by school basis how much it would want to include economic and social justice into the business curriculum based on that school’s administration and board of trustees/advisors. Further, not including some sort of economic justice into a business curriculum does a disservice to students. If students understand the concepts and the practice of business law but do not understand other factors that are not written into the law, students would go into practice without a full understanding of all of the factors they would face. By including some amount of economic justice in the business law curriculum would even further prepare law students to be “practice ready.”