In the wake of one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history, lobbyists for the oil industry and Louisiana lawmakers mounted an effort to ensure that the law school legal clinic would be hard-pressed to bring legal challenges over violations of environmental regulations. The clinic has a long history of representing clients suing chemical companies for environmental violations. A Louisiana State senator sponsored legislation that would have "blocked university law clinics at any school that receives state money from suing a government agency or representing a client who is suing a private defendant for monetary damages." The senator argued that the measure was prompted by the number of lawsuits lodged by Tulane's environmental legal clinic against chemical companies. The state lawmaker asserted that the clinic's "mission seems to be to attack business development ... in this state," reported The Times-Picayune.
Elie Mystal of Above the Law suggests that the proposed legislation was prompted not by a concern that the Tulane legal clinic was acting irresponsibly but rather by corporate lobbyists for oil companies who are trying to limit the legal efficacy of an organization that has brought successful suits against those companies in the past: "It is...surprising that state legislators are totally unashamed to appear to be in the back pocket of their corporate handlers." The measure was defeated yesterday, as the recent BP oil spill was reaching Louisiana's wetlands.
Despite the bill's failure, it represents an increasing scrutiny of law school clinics: "This kind of industry pressure on law school clinics has failed in Maryland, and now failed in Louisiana," writes Above the Law.
In a similar instance, the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic faced pressure by Maryland lawmakers who sought to limit funding to the clinic after it filed a lawsuit alleging violations of environmental regulations against Perdue Farms. That effort by Maryland was the subject of a guest blog post at ACSblog.