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In our work as lawyers for low income clients and as clinical teachers, we are sometimes told by our professional counterparts in private practice—especially those who work in large corporate firms—that what we do "isn't law, it's social work." Similarly, our students sometimes complain that the work they do on behalf of low income clients "isn't law, it's social work."
In the past we have tended to respond to this "social worker" charge defensively. We insisted that what we and our students do is "law," that it is really no different from what private practitioners do for their paying clients, and that in many ways it is even more legally complex and sophisticated than much of what private lawyers do.
While this response is superficially true, on a deeper level it tends to obscure an important dimension of our work as both lawyers and clinical teachers. Our work does have an important social function. At its best, law is more than a business or trade by which lawyers use their education, training, professional license to earn a comfortable living by pursuing and protecting the personal—and typically, economic—interests of the clients who retain them, whoever those clients might be.
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