Since 1948, Thurgood Marshall School of Law has continuously offered pro bono legal aid to the traditionally underserved population. Indeed, Thurgood Marshall has the distinct privilege of being the oldest clinical program in the City of Houston and among the oldest in the State of Texas.
The law school's first clinical offering was a course called “Legal Aid Clinic." The Legal Aid Clinic responded to prisoner's letters. Under the supervision of Professor Roberson King, students researched legal issues and pertinent laws raised in the prisoner's letter and then drafted reply letters. The course was an elective, limited to upper-level students. The Legal Aid Clinic provided students an opportunity to enhance their research and writing skills while providing exposure to the criminal justice system. In 1951, the Legal Aid Clinic course was replaced by practice or simulation courses. Nine years later, the Legal Aid Clinic was re-formed from a skills-based and interactive teaching course into a full-fledged law office in the law school environment - an in -house live-client clinic.
The 1970s were pivotal years in the Legal Clinic's growth. The Law School was awarded a grant in the early 1970s from the Council on Legal Education and Professional Responsibility ("CLEPR") - the first HBCU law school to receive such funding. The grant afforded the law school to expand its clinical offering, as well as obtain off-site office space and additional staff. The law school added the "Criminal -Post Conviction Remedies Project." By the mid-1970's, additional funding was secured from various federal agencies enabling the creation of the "Preventative Law Center" and the "Southwest Institute for Equal Employment."
In 1975, then Dean Otis King recognized the importance of clinical education and provided crucial testimony to the Texas House of Representative regarding the same. His testimony was buttressed by then Chief Justice of the Texas State Supreme Court, Justice Joe Greenhill, who actively encouraged state funding of law schools to support and advance clinical education. As a result of King and Greenhill's testimony, the state added a line-item in the university's budget specifically for the law school' s legal aid clinic.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a substantial increase in clinical offerings- the Community Legal Services Clinic, Tax Clinic, Elderly Law Clinic, School Law Clinic, Homeless Law Clinic, AIDS Clinic, Juvenile Law Clinic, and the Environmental Justice Clinic (EJC) were established. Until 2007, the EJC was the only environmental law clinic in the State of Texas. In 2003, the clinical program was reorganized and renamed the Clinical Legal Studies Program. The clinic was restructured to offer more traditional legal services (i.e., Landlord/ Tenant, Family Law, Criminal Law, and Immigration) and training was designed to prepare students to be solo practitioners or work in small firms. Unlike previous years, all aspects of the clinical program are supported by hard money- ensuring permanence and continuity. Today the Legal Clinic is built on a strong foundation of providing quality legal services to the underrepresented while t raining the lawyers of the future!
Excerpted from Martina E. Cartwright & Thelma L. Harmon, Fifty Plus Years & Counting: A History of Experiential Learning and Clinical Opportunities at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, 39 Thurgood Marshall L. Rev. 187 (2014)