In Conversation with Bluhm Legal Clinic Director Thomas Geraghty
Q: Tom, you began the Legal Clinic back in 1969 and have been involved ever since. Tell us a bit about how it all began and about the Clinic’s evolution over the years.
TG: Well, the program first began in 1910 under the leadership of John Henry Wigmore. In 1969, it evolved into the Legal Clinic. We were housed in the basement of Thorn Hall, a cathedral-like building that once sat on this site. It was just three of us, and the Clinic began as an effort to provide legal services to the law school and to students. We identified a number of areas we thought were important based on our experience in the courts. One was juvenile court, which was in terrible shape, another was criminal defense practice which we also thought needed some work, and criminal courts which were in a state of disrepair.
As the Clinic expanded, we began to recognize there were other areas in which we could be effective, for example, we expanded into international human rights. Because of the faculty we were able to attract with the work we were doing, we became well known and well regarded in the legal community and throughout the country. And as a result of that, we attracted a lot of enthusiastic students. The demand for the Clinic increased and we have broadened the range of opportunities for our students. We’ve done this through the support of the law school, which has been tremendous and we’ve also been quite effective and fortunate in obtaining grants and gifts to support the additional work that we do.
Q: What are your hopes for students who participate in the Clinic?
TG: The Clinic tries to model education and service. Those are the two concepts I’d like our students to take away. I hope students will find the practice of law to be endlessly fascinating, enjoyable, and rewarding; that they will take the lessons and skills they learn and apply them in their representation of clients. I hope they will become engaged in a lifelong professional endeavor to make things better.
Q: What about the Bluhm Legal Clinic makes you especially proud?
TG: For one, I’m very proud of our faculty. They are terrific, truly engaged people with a real passion for their work. They are dedicated individuals who like teaching and legal practice and convey that enthusiasm to students. I’m proud of our students. I’ll walk by the student area in the middle of the day and see it filled with people working hard on cases. I’m proud of so many of the accomplishments of the Clinic in terms of the individual cases we’ve handled and the larger projects in which we’ve been engaged over the years. There are many excellent clinics around the country, but I believe we are unique in that we are involved both in individual representation and in legal reform. We’re having a real impact on how law is practiced, the way the court approaches certain issues, the way institutions deal with the problems faced on a day-to-day basis. What is more, our students and faculty are involved in real court cases, sometimes Supreme Court cases, that are quite complex and address very tough issues.
Q: How does the Bluhm Legal Clinic do its work? How are you supported?
TG: Partnerships, grants, and gifts are essential for us to do this work. The Clinic is a huge operation. We are committed to excellence and that means involvement and attention from our faculty for our students and for our clients. We’ve been fortunate for support from a number of individuals, alumni, and organizations.
Q: What’s next on the horizon?
TG: We are always on the lookout for new areas of practice that are relevant and from which students can learn. I listen closely to our faculty who tend to be a lot younger than I am and who have great, new ideas. I listen to what our students say. Clinical education continues to flourish here at Northwestern Law. We continue to adapt to the needs of our students, the legal community, and the public. With Assistant Director Steven Drizin, and with our amazing faculty, staff, and students, we intend to strengthen our already excellent programs.