Legal Pioneers

Before the late 1960s, students graduated from law school “without knowing anything about practicing law,” according to Frank Askin NLAW’66. The schools were “philosophical,” not practical, institutions—until people like Askin led the movement to “establish clinical, experiential training.” Known as legal clinics, they allow law students and professors to try real cases. Rutgers was an early pioneer.

Today, Rutgers School of Law–Newark has seven clinics, which Askin and his wife, Marilyn NLAW’70, an adjunct professor for 25 years, don’t want to see go under. They donated $115,000 to establish the Frank and Marilyn Askin Endowed Fund for Clinical Legal Education. “My fear was that, in these tight budget times, they may decide to cut clinics and deprive a generation of really learning the practice of law,” says Marilyn.

In 1970, when Frank, a Rutgers professor since 1966, cofounded the Constitutional Litigation Clinic, Marilyn graduated, she says, “not knowing how to write a complaint, not knowing anything about how to practice law, because all you had was six weeks of bar preparation. I had to learn practice on the backs of my clients.”

Rutgers was a pioneer of legal clinics, the practical part of a law education championed by alumni Frank and Marilyn Askin.

Forty years later, Marilyn, a pioneer in elder-law practice and chief legislative advocate for AARP New Jersey, is a master practitioner. And the Askins’ son Jonathan NLAW’90, one of three children, also runs a legal clinic at Brooklyn Law School.

“Clinics provide representation for individuals who wouldn’t be represented and for issues or causes that would not be represented,” Frank says. His clinic “filed the first cases in the country challenging government surveillance and keeping dossiers on political activists. We get involved in a lot of cutting-edge issues.”

Learning—and Litigating

Students at the Constitutional Litigation Clinic handle everything from interviewing clients to drafting legal briefs to preparing for oral arguments.

Clinic students have litigated landmark civil rights and international human rights cases, including the nation’s first suits challenging government surveillance of political activists and a successful challenge to municipal ordinances barring use of public parks by nonresidents. Learn more.

(This story originally appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Rutgers Magazine.)