CLEA Award for 

Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project

CLEA established this award to honor and recognize a case or project that truly contributes to the public good. The award may be given to an individual law student or law students in a clinical program or to a clinic or clinical program.

The criteria for the award are:

  1.  The case or project either: 

  • effectively calls attention to and/or significantly redresses a high priority need of underserved or low income residents or communities; or
  • makes a notable or meaningful contribution to the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, legal services for the underrepresented, environmental protection, or consumer protection; and

  2.  The case or project has been carried out in conformity with the highest standards of professional conduct and competence; and

  3.  The case or project serves as an inspiring model for engaging in legal work under challenging conditions in furtherance of the common good.

CLEA is now accepting nominations for this award for 2024!

Nominations should be in the form of a letter of no more than three single-spaced pages. Each nomination should be endorsed by at least three individuals. At least one of those individuals must be a full-time clinical faculty member at a law school and a member of CLEA. The other two individuals need not be CLEA members, nor clinical law professors. The nominating letter should clearly indicate which of the nominators are CLEA members. Letters of support in addition to the nomination letter are also welcome, and the letters of support may come from CLEA members or non-members. The letters of support must be submitted in the same email and pdf as the nominating letter (but need not fit within the three-page limit). Please find below the criteria for each award.
The nomination deadline for the award is Sunday, March 31. Please send nominations via email to with the subject line: 2024 CLEA Awards. All materials should be submitted as a single PDF.

2022 award:

CLEA is thrilled to announce that the University of Maine School of Law’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic and Cornell Law School’s Death Penalty Program are recipients of the CLEA Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project, and an Honorable Mention is being awarded to the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative’s Ambassadors for Racial Justice Program.  

Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project: University of Maine School of Law’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic 

The University of Maine School of Law’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic (RHRC) undertook a multi-year, multi-faceted project investigating the problematic practices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Boston Asylum Office (BAO), as described in the project report: Lives in Limbo: How the Boston Asylum Office Fails Asylum Seekers. RHRC students, working under the supervision of RHRC Founder and Director Professor Anna Welch and her colleague Adjunct Professor Erica Schair-Cardona, drafted the Report in collaboration with project partners ACLU of Maine, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, and Dr. Basileus Zeno of Amherst College.  

The BAO has a stunningly low approval rate for affirmative asylum petitions. Denials at the BAO delay the resolution of meritorious petitions by several years, causing further trauma to asylum seekers and requiring their family members abroad to remain in danger. The RHRC’s BAO project included litigation in U.S. District Court to compel government production of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative investigation into the BAO’s practices and policies.  

The Report, which received local and national media coverage (including Human Rights First), details findings from analysis of documents and data received as a result of the FOIA lawsuit, as well as hours of student interviews with asylees, asylum seekers, former asylum officers, and immigration attorneys. It exposed several systemic problems with adjudication of affirmative asylum applications across the country, including bias, a culture of distrust toward asylum seekers, and violations of their due process rights.  

Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project: Cornell School of Law’s Death Penalty Program 

The award to Cornell School of Law’s Death Penalty Program honors the work of the Capital Punishment Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic, the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, and the Death Penalty Project, representing the efforts of Professors Sandra Babcock, John Blume, Sheri Johnson, and Keir Weyble, and generations of their students, alumni, community partners, and clients. The faculty have collectively devoted more than 100 years to the defense of people facing the death penalty, leveraging law school and university resources to provide enduring support to individual clients and to the capital punishment abolition movement in the United States and around the world. They have worked not only to overturn convictions and death sentences of individual clients, but also to assist and train capital defense attorneys in dozens of countries, conduct groundbreaking empirical research and scholarship, and promote ever-higher standards of defense practice both in the United States and abroad. Countless alumni have gone on to work in criminal defense or in the capital punishment field as a result of their clinic experience, and many continue to collaborate with the faculty and current students. 

Honorable Mention: Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative’s Ambassadors for Racial Justice Program 

Through the Ambassadors for Racial Justice program, co-founded by the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic and The Gault Center (formerly the National Juvenile Defender Center), youth defenders across the country receive the resources and training they need to battle racial injustice. In response to the tremendous racial disparities they have witnessed during the Clinic’s many decades of work, faculty, staff, and students began to incorporate data and research on implicit racial bias and the traumatic effects of policing on youth of color into their legal arguments and written pleadings. Ambassadors for Racial Justice was conceived as a way to extend the impact of the Clinic’s racial justice advocacy beyond the walls of the law school. 

During the year-long program, an annual cohort of ten Ambassadors gathers for weekend-long retreats and monthly webinars covering topics such as incorporating data in advocacy, strategies to end the criminalization of normal adolescent behavior, and probation reform. Additionally, each Ambassador develops a capstone project aimed at legislative advocacy, training, coalition building, litigation strategy, or community education in their state.  

Now in the program’s third year, the Ambassadors spread across 19 states and advance justice for youth of color by serving as mentors to other defenders and sharing motions through Defend Racial Justice for Youth: A Toolkit for Defenders. In the words of one Ambassador, the program equips defenders to “fight a system that thrives on the insidious corroding thread of dehumanizing and caging children of color,” and “disrupt everything… that says …our kids’ lives don’t matter.” 

    Prior award recipients:

    2021: Irwin County Detention Center Project, Collaboration of Harvard Law School, University of Georgia School of Law, Texas A&M School of Law, Columbia Law School, and Boston University School of Law.

    2020: University of Chicago Law School, Federal Criminal Justice Clinic

    2019: University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, Legislation Clinic

    2018: Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Health Justice Project

    2017: Justice Lab at Temple University Beasley School of Law

    2016: University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Civil Rights Clinic; and

    Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, Law Reform Advocacy Clinic 

    2015: Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics

    2014: Charlotte Law School, Civil Rights Clinic's "Ban the Box" Campaign  

    2013: CUNY School of Law, CLEAR Project's "Mapping Muslims" Report

    2012: Alabama School of Law, Tornado Relief Assistance Project; and

    Quinnipiac School of Law, Civil Justice Clinic

    2011: Albany Law School, Civil Rights & Disability Law Project

    2010: University of Miami School of Law, Health and Elder Law Clinic

    2009: University of Washington School of Law, Environmental Law Clinic

    2008: Rutgers-Newark School of Law, Constitutional Litigation Clinic

    2007: Tulane School of Law, Criminal Law Clinic

    2006: Golden Gate University, Southeast San Francisco Energy Project

    2005: Florida State University College of Law, Children's Advocacy Center

    Maryland School of Law, Walter Henry Arvinger Legal Defense Team

    2004: University of Chicago Law School, Police Accountability Project; and

    CUNY School of Law, Clinical Programs

    2003: University of Miami School of Law, Foster Children’s Mental Health Project

    2002: University of Denver School of Law, predatory lending project


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