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Fall 2020 Cornell Law Clinic - Directors Message

We are resuming our newsletter after a spring and summer of intense collaboration – working together on emergency policy advocacy as the pandemic set in, supporting protests, challenging institutionalized racism in the legal academy, and responding personally to new emergencies in our communities, families, and programs. We missed connecting with many of you in person when the pandemic shifted the plans for the Cornell Law Clinical Program’s 60th Anniversary celebration and the Orlando Clinical Conference.

Professor Beth Lyon on a white backgroundThe main themes of this edition of our newsletter are resilience and strength. The resilience and strength of black colleagues, students and community leaders inspires work at Cornell Law School, and this fall Carl Williams launched our Movement Lawyering Practicum, in which students gain first-hand experience, knowledge, and skills while working with community organizers to use the law to support and defend justice movements. The resilience and strength of Tompkins County residents led Bill Niebel to partner with the new Ithaca Tenants Union and found our Tenants Advocacy Practicum this fall. Students in the new Practicum assist and advocate on behalf of tenants, including those who are facing eviction and homelessness.

Although we are all forced to mark important moments from a distance, we continue to draw strength from the people around us. One of the last times the Cornell clinicians gathered in person was to celebrate the leadership of our dear colleague John Blume, who stepped down earlier this year as Cornell’s Director of Clinical, Advocacy and Skills Programs. He served in this role for nine years under two deans, and has been an effective and tireless advocate for the clinical program. Through his leadership the program became a unitary law office and added eleven new clinics, six practicum courses, three affiliated Centers, and multiple interdisciplinary initiatives. John continues his dedicated work with the Capital Punishment Clinic, the Juvenile Justice Clinic, the Innocence Clinic, and Justice 360, the South Carolina NGO he founded to fight the capital punishment machine. As Director, John has been a true servant leader, an effective advocate for faculty autonomy, a gracious colleague, and a generous staff manager. I am attempting to fill John’s shoes (or boots, this being Ithaca) in a newly created position of Associate Dean for Experiential Education and Director of Clinical Programs.

Sixty years ago, CLS alumna Betty Friedlander and allied faculty founded the Cornell Legal Aid Clinic, which grew into today’s program with dozens of course offerings serving seventy percent of the class. Our faculty are providing a critically-needed public voice as the pandemic transforms workplaces and shifts the politics of detaining immigrant families and children. Our students continue to engage and change the national conversation through their legal work for clients – from the Law for Black Lives organization; biomedicine and life sciences startups; farmworkers in New York or Indonesia; to local journalists and the New York Times. We celebrated Curtis Flowers’ release from death row on bail after the Capital Punishment Clinic demonstrated to the U.S. Supreme Court that the prosecution had made a “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals.” You will read about many of these and other developments in this issue of our clinical newsletter.

We wish you resilience and strength, and, as always, please do stop in and see us if you find yourself here “high above Cayuga’s waters.”

Walk gently,
Beth Lyon
Clinical Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Experiential Education, Clinical Program Director, and Director of the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic

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