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From Heartbreak To Hope: Stanford Law Students Help A Child With Emotional Disabilities Find A New School

Publication Date: 
July 20, 2011
Stanford University News
Kathleen K. Sullivan

Dean Larry Kramer, Professor Larry Marshall and Professor Bill Koski spoke to Kathleen K. Sullivan in this Stanford University News article about work being done by students in the Youth and Education Law Project, which is one of 10 legal practice areas that compose the Mills Legal Clinic.

At Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School, students receive hands-on training by representing real people with real cases – with close supervision by faculty. In the Youth and Education Law Project, one of the clinic's 10 legal practice areas, students represent children and families in special education and school discipline matters.


He was a pint-sized client – a brown-eyed third-grader – with big problems.

During the school year, the 8-year-old boy had been hospitalized twice for psychotic breakdowns. When he was released from the children's psychiatric ward, the only thing the little boy wanted to do was go back to school.

The school wasn't equipped to handle the needs of a child whose world had been turned upside down by mental illness, but refused to transfer him to one that could.


They worked under the watchful eye and careful coaching of William Koski, the Eric & Nancy Wright Professor of Clinical Education and Director of the Youth and Education Law Project, and Carly Munson, the Bingham McCutchen Youth and Education Clinical Fellow at the Law School.


Koski, an accomplished litigator who earned a doctorate in Education at Stanford in 2003, said the beauty of the Youth and Education Law Project is that people come to its students with complex, messy problems.

"Not the kind of problems students learn about in law classes, but the kind of real-life problems they'll be dealing with every day as lawyers," Koski said. "As lawyers, we need to bring some order to this messiness."


"It's an exercise in which they identify the interests of the relevant parties, and the rights and powers each of those parties can exercise," Koski said. "It shows where our interests align and where we can find common ground, as well as what rights we have and how we might exercise them."

Also, the students took part in simulated negotiating sessions in which Koski and Munson, the project's clinical fellow, played the roles of school district officials to demonstrate the wide range of issues that could arise during the meeting.


Larry Kramer, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School, said the hands-on legal training offered at the Mills Legal Clinic is part of the school's core curriculum. "You can't become a rabbi or a priest without serious supervised clinical education – much less a doctor, or a nurse or a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a social worker," he said. "Law is the only profession that gives people licenses to perform services for others that doesn't require serious, supervised clinical education. We offer clinical training because it's an essential part of legal training to take classroom knowledge and help students work through the process of deploying it, so they get some sense of what it's like to work through the messy complexity of cases."