History of the Mandel Clinic and Kane Center

[from "Fifty Years of Clinical Legal Education at Chicago Law"  by Robin I. Mordfin]

The goals of the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic have long been to help those who need assistance and to teach students the practical ins and outs of legal practice at the same time. Over the past half century, the methods and models used to achieve these goals have changed, but the desire to instill in students an understanding of the value and need for public-assistance law never wavered.

Since its inception, the Mandel Clinic has been regarded as a superlative example of what a law school–affiliated legal aid clinic should be. With dedicated teachers and bright, eager students, literally hundreds of thousands of people have been helped directly by Clinic staff. And many, many more have benefited from the lawsuits and advocacy work the Clinic has performed.

The Clinic has influenced attorneys who have gone on to start other legal aid clinics at schools across the country, from Vanderbilt University Law School in Tennessee to the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. Further, its reach is more than national, as several law schools outside of the country have studied the Mandel model when creating their clinics.

At its inception, when it opened with two attorneys and one secretary, its creators firmly believed that the Clinic would help people well into the twenty-first century. Today, with its expanded staff, its comfortable offices, and its mass of hardworking students, the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic continues to be a credit to its founders.

By the time the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic opened, Dean Edward H. Levi had spent six years writing hundreds of pages worth of memos, letters, and proposals in an attempt to bring his plan for a legal clinic at the Law School to fruition. In a 1951 memo, he wrote:

“Such a legal clinic would be a major step in American legal education. It would put the law schools in a position where they would be dealing with the facts of actual cases . . . . It would be an experiment in the training of lawyers using techniques analogous to those employed in medical schools.”

Levi’s vision was clear, but the route to success was not as apparent. Over the next few years, a number of proposals were considered and discarded, including one put forth by the National Legal Aid Association for a Legal Center in Chicago that would include students from six area law schools.

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