The Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic officially launched in 2018 with the aid of an initial seed grant from The Stanton Foundation. But the original concept for the Clinic came from a student who expressed to the then-Law School Dean his enthusiasm for defending and advancing First Amendment rights. From this suggestion, the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic launched with the goal of offering a clinical program to educate and inspire students to do critical First Amendment work.
The Clinic is proud to have received additional generous support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Charles H. Revson Foundation and the Legal Clinic Fund, a collaborative fund supported by The Abrams Foundation, Democracy Fund, Heising-Simons Foundation, and The Klarman Family Foundation. The Miami Foundation serves as fiscal sponsor for the Legal Clinic Fund. The late Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, JD’52, provided additional generous support. The Stanton Foundation has provided an additional key grant to support the ongoing work of the Clinic.
While the Clinic has historically taken a leadership role on contemporary First Amendment issues, Clinic faculty and staff also frequently collaborate with other clinics, law firms, and advocacy organizations dedicated to the protection and advancement of the First Amendment. For example, the Clinic has collaborated with other law school clinics and organizations such as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, various ACLU chapters across the coutnry, and the Student Press Law Center. In addition, we regularly team up with leading law firms such as Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Vinson & Elkins LLP, Cornell Dolan, P.C., and Miller Korzenik Sommers Rayman LLP. Through these strategic partnerships, students have the unique experience of working with a variety of experienced First Amendment advocates.
The Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic provides students interested in the freedoms of speech, press, information, association and religion with firsthand, cutting-edge experience in the field. Students will likely interface directly with clients, witnesses, co-counsel, and opposing counsel. Several Clinic students have argued before courts and have participated in mediations. The Clinic provides an excellent opportunity for students to work on their professional writing skills. Students draft a variety of legal documents, including briefs, complaints, affidavits, press releases, and corporate contracts. Students prepare for oral argument and status conferences and conduct in-depth policy analysis. All Clinic work is conducted collaboratively in a team-based environment.
The Clinic is known nationally for its exceptional pre-semester Bootcamp, which takes place the Friday and Saturday after the first week of classes. At Bootcamp, students learn essential components of First Amendment doctrine, as well as hear from clients, co-counsel and practitioners in the field about cutting-edge issues affecting free speech and the free press. The Bootcamp also provides students to develop relationships with each other to foster a team spirit that is so essential to the Clinic’s success.
The Clinic is lucky to have an illustrious Advisory Committee that provides guidance and direction to Clinic’s activities. Committee members have been active participants in the Clinic’s programs, including lecturing at Bootcamp, participating in classes, advising on ongoing matters and attending Clinic-sponsored events. The current Advisory Committee is comprised of Cornell Law School Professors Steven H. Shiffrin, Michael C. Dorf, Nelson Tebbe, James Grimmelmann and Academic Fellow Cortelyou Kenney.
A popular feature of the Clinic is the Newsroom Visits it schedules each semester. Students have had the opportunity to visit newsrooms at national outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, New Yorker Magazine, Nation Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine; and more local outlets such as The City and WCNY Syracuse. On these visits, students hear directly from editors, reporters and their newsroom lawyers about how lawyers and journalists work together to publish, post and broadcast essential news to the public.
The Clinic has an active Alumni Network and has worked with former students on important matters with members of that network who are working at private law firms. One of the Clinic’s goals is to create a national network of former students who are willing, able and trained to work on clinic matters when they arise in their jurisdictions and areas of interest.
The Clinic also brings speakers to the law school and the wider university campus to discuss pressing First Amendment issues. It traditionally has invited prominent speakers to address domestic issues in the fall semester and more international free press issues in the spring. Clinic students often have the unique opportunity to meet with these speakers privately or in the classroom setting.