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Finding the Pearls When the World Is Your Oyster: Case and Project Selection in Clinic Design


Clinical legal education is distinguishable from the rest of the law school curriculum and the extracurricular activities available to law students because it places students directly into the role of a lawyer engaged in real-world practice. Clinical programs are often defined by the cases and projects — the pearls at the heart of the experiential learning experience — that comprise their dockets. Finding the right cases and projects that meet a range of goals remains a perennial challenge in clinic design. In the context of international human rights clinics, the world is your oyster, and that challenge is magnified. This Article identifies a set of core lawyering competencies — skills and values — essential to successful practice in a globalized world, and argues that those competencies should drive the pedagogical goals that serve as the criteria against which to assess the value of the clinical teaching pearls. Building on prior scholarship by international human rights clinical law faculty, and analyzing case studies from the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, this Article then examines the benefits and challenges for students engaged in a range of individual and project-based human rights representations. This Article concludes with the provocative and important question: How can we prevent the risk of harm to the often unfamiliar and fragile ecosystems into which we dive in search of our teaching pearls?