In May 1970 the New Mexico Supreme Court adopted a rule whose purpose is “to permit a clinical program for the University of New Mexico School of Law” by allowing qualified law students to practice law and “appear before the courts and administrative agencies of this state, in civil and criminal matters, under the active supervision of a member of the state bar designated by the dean of the law school.”
After a year of planning, the law school established its clinical program, and it has been in continuous operation since its inception. While earning law school credit hours in the clinical program, students have appeared in agency hearings, magistrate courts, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, district courts, tribal courts, the New Mexico Court of Appeals and the New Mexico Supreme Court.
From the beginning, the clinical program has always enjoyed the strong support of the deans, the faculty, the courts and the State Bar. As a result, it has become a very dynamic program. It is constantly developing, expanding and improving. The clinical program is recognized as a national leader in clinical education and has consistently been ranked as one of the top clinical education programs by U.S. News and World Report.
The UNM School of Law is committed to preparing its graduates to the fullest extent possible for the practice of law. A key component of that preparation is providing students with opportunities to learn from the experience of actually practicing law while working under the guidance and supervision of experienced and dedicated lawyers and law professors. The supervisors’ assistance in preparing students for this work and the assessment and feedback that they receive on the lawyering tasks that they perform is essential to their acquisition of the fundamental lawyering skills that they need to succeed as members of the legal profession. Additionally, student’s clinical studies and experiences are carefully designed so as to cultivate adherence to the highest standards of professional responsibility and professional values.
The significance that the law school places on hand-on practice experience before graduation is clearly expressed in its requirement that every student complete six credit hours of clinical studies in one of the mandatory clinical courses. These courses are designed to take full advantage of the power of the clinical method. They are all staffed with highly qualified full-time tenured or tenure-track professors, and the student faculty ratio is kept very low. These courses include full-time staff support and operate out of a state-of-the-art facility, including access to the use of up-to-date technology. Currently, these courses are Community Law Clinic, Business and Tax Clinic, Law Practice Clinic and Southwest Indian Law Clinic.
While the courses that qualify for the mandatory clinic credit hours provide students with the opportunity to work on real legal matters in a variety of practice settings and contexts, the law school’s clinical program includes a number of elective courses that expand and enhance students’ opportunities to learn from the actual practice experience envisioned by the New Mexico Supreme Court so many years ago when it provided for a clinical program at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Currently, the clinical program’s elective courses include externships, Criminal Law in Practice, Immigration Law in Practice, Innocence and Justice Seminar, Appellate Law in Practice and DWI/DV Prosecution in Practice.