Writer, advocate and teacher Leigh Bienen’s digital projects are lenses for viewing extraordinary periods in our past.
Robin Walker Sterling joins the Northwestern Law faculty this year as a clinical professor of law, director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, and associate dean for clinical education. Her research and teaching interests include clinical advocacy, criminal law, and juvenile justice, and her current work explores extending the right to a jury trial to juveniles facing delinquency proceedings.
Walker Sterling is the outgoing associate professor and Ronald V. Yegge Clinical Director at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, where she was a part of the faculty for 10 years. She received her BA from Yale College and a JD from New York University School of Law. She attended Georgetown University Law Center for her LLM in Clinical Advocacy.
Walker Sterling spoke with The Reporter to discuss her new role, her vision for the Bluhm Legal Clinic, and the importance of clinical education.
You are joining the Clinic at an unprecedented time, when the work of the Clinic attorneys seems more urgent than ever. What are some of your immediate priorities as director?
I want to devise ways for clinical faculty members to talk, as a Clinic community, about incorporating anti-racist practices, so that the Clinic continues to be a place in which all students feel welcome. I also want to create a sense of community, so that individual clinics and centers are not so siloed, and I hope to help promote Clinic achievements on a broad scale both inside and outside the Law School. The Clinic’s work spans so many critical areas, I would like to make sure that Northwestern’s outstanding clinical faculty has what it needs to continue to do such outstanding work.
Why is a clinical education such an important part of a holistic legal education?
For so many students, studying in the Clinic is transformative. It’s the first time in their legal careers that they have the chance to tap into many different capabilities—substantive matter expertise, psychomotor lawyering skills, and affective aspirations—all at once. It’s exciting for students, but it should also be thrilling for professors. One of my favorite things about being a clinical professor is being able to help students start to come into their own.
What are you most excited about in this new role?
Northwestern Law’s clinical program is ranked sixth in the country for good reason. I am very excited to work with the exceedingly dedicated, talented, and creative lawyers, teachers and scholars in the Bluhm Legal Clinic. It has been a real treat to be able to peek behind the scenes and see that, not only is their stellar national reputation richly deserved, but also that, for all their accomplishments, they continue to strive to do as much good as they can, for as many people as they can, with as much compassion as they can. It’s inspiring every day.
What do you see as your biggest challenge as you step into this role?
Because of the unique times we’re in, there is a lot of work to do, and so all of our resources— mainly time and personpower—are stretched thin. There are many, many projects that we at the Clinic would like to take on, but we just cannot take on all of them. Especially knowing how extraordinarily capable our students and clinical professors are, it is difficult to turn people away.
How have you managed to adapt to these new roles during such an unprecedented time?
I’m still in Denver, and so working remotely in a different time zone—that one hour makes a big difference—has been a bit disorienting. There are immediate questions that need to be answered urgently, about technology and other logistics, plus long-term goals that we will set as a clinical legal community, once we’re on the other side of this period of crisis. Sometimes those are in tension, and that’s a challenge. But even in these unprecedented times, I’m very, very excited about these new roles.
Any words of advice for this year’s students as they navigate this ever-changing world and unorthodox academic year?
Even with all of the unprecedented strain and uncertainty of the current national moment, I envy the students at this time in their career. I love being a lawyer. I count going to law school as one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Lawyers so often have a chance to affect real, lasting changes—for both individual clients and for our entire society—that recalibrate our collective consciousness, even infinitesimally, toward hope. So I would say: Do what you can to be grounded in the current moment, to find ways to connect yourself and your vision of justice to the law that you are learning, and to, even now while you’re in law school, start thinking about ways to make your vision of justice a reality.
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