Transactional Clinics as Change Agents in the Trump Era: Lessons from Two Contexts
Community Economic Development
Nonprofit Organizations Law
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AbstractThe results of the 2016 presidential election and the efforts by the Trump administration to make sweeping changes to a wide range of federal policies have left communities across the country feeling overwhelmed and threatened. In its first year, the Trump administration has been working steadily to slash budgets for health care, housing, infrastructure, schools, and other public benefits that help low-income and middle-class Americans, while adopting policies and engaging in rhetoric that has made many immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and LGBTQ people feel increasingly vulnerable and marginalized.The authors of this commentary run law clinics that provide pro bono corporate and transactional legal services to small businesses, nonprofits, cooperatives, and other entities that cannot afford private counsel. We teach at different law schools, in different geographical regions, and, since the election, we have both sought to work through our clinics to help our communities understand and confront the changes brought by the new administration. We work in very different contexts — Appalachia and suburban New York City — and the commentary begins by exploring how these contexts have led us to undertake this work differently. It then looks at the specific changes we have made in the design of our clinic seminars and in the kinds of cases and community projects we have undertaken and describes some lessons we have learned from these initial experiments as we seek to continue these efforts in the future.Corporate and transactional lawyers sometimes find it hard to identify pro bono projects that mesh well with their skills and experience because litigation is often a more visible, tangible need for people who cannot afford attorneys. The article concludes with some ideas of ways that CED lawyers and other corporate and transactional attorneys can engage in similar work outside of the clinical context.