H.R. 4194: Law Student Clinic Participation Act of 2009

H.R. 4194

Law Student Clinic Participation Act of 2009

Date
December 16, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

H.R. 4194 is being considered under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds vote for passage. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) on December 3, 2009.

Bill Summary

H.R. 4194 would amend title 18 of the United States Code to exempt qualifying law school students participating in legal clinics or externships of an accredited law school from the application of conflict of interest rules unless: (1) the student or staff has participated personally and substantially in the matter as a Government employee or special Government employee through decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation, or otherwise; or (2) the matter is pending in the department or agency of the Government in which the student is serving.

Background

Title 18 U.S.C. § 205 makes it a crime for a federal government employee to provide legal assistance to anyone in bringing a case against the United States or in bringing a case adverse to a substantial U.S. interest. Section 205 (b) applies the same rule to employees of the District of Columbia. For law school students or legal clinic staff who hold government jobs, § 205 criminalizes participation in a wide range of clinical programs, including those funded by the federal government.

Law students or legal clinic staff who are full- or part-time government employees face criminal penalties if they participate in law school pro bono clinics that represent plaintiffs whose claims are adverse to the federal or DC governments. This disqualifies the law students from participation in many service activities that benefit both the students and the wider community-among them, juvenile justice clinics, death penalty appeal projects, advocacy programs on behalf of parents with special needs children, and low-income taxpayer clinics.

Currently, 18 U.S.C. § 205 has the effect of forcing law students to choose between government service and community service. It also needlessly deprives government employees of a range of educational opportunities that would be particularly beneficial to them as lawyers.

As amended, § 205 would permit individual law students and legal clinic staff to participate in law school clinics that are by their nature adverse to the federal or DC governments, but would not allow actual conflicts of interest involving specific parties. In this way, law students and staff who choose government service would remain subject to governmental conflict of interest rules while also being permitted to enjoy the same clinical resources and opportunities as their peers.

Cost

CBO does not have a score available for H.R. 4194.