A New Normal: “Please Note the Emergency Exit, in Case It Becomes Necessary”

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Emergency Exit

As our team entered the beautiful legal clinic, one of the very first things the Director said to us was “please note the emergency exit, in case it becomes necessary.” She also stopped right in front of it and pointed, ensuring that we each saw it. She smiled sadly. And I realized that we witnessed a new, post-#PuertoRicoEarthquakes “normal.”

I have been a clinical legal educator since 1999. In fact, I served a former president of the national Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) and was an active CLEA board member and volunteer for years. Over all these years, I have personally visited more than 50 law clinics around the world. And never before – never before – has the emergency exit been pointed out to me as part of an opening welcome to a clinical program. Perhaps such safety tips *should* have been part of a welcome…but not once has an urgent need been felt within minutes of starting a meeting in their own space by any clinic leader I have encountered. Nor have I ever received a guest to a clinic meeting I was hosting as director by pointing out the exit.

Welcome to academic leadership in today’s #PuertoRico.

We were visiting Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico School of Law in Ponce, Puerto Rico when we experienced this “new normal.” After the emergency exit lesson, our #UBLawResponds team from the University at Buffalo School of Law Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic enjoyed a wonderful visit. We shared our backgrounds and work, brainstormed about ways we could be of assistance in the months to come, and agreed to forge a new partnership to benefit those coming for pro bono legal help through their clinical program. #UBLawResponds looks forward to our new collaboration, and finding ways we can add bandwidth from Buffalo to the legal services provided by Ponce’s great clinical program.

Yet, as we drove away, I could not forget the startling introduction. And as I pondered, I started to become sad. My students and I got to exit the meeting and head away from the immediate earthquake zone…and in a few days we will make a bigger exit by flying back to Buffalo. Those clinicians and academics on the front lines, upon whom thousands of people facing unexpected legal problems in the wake of the hurricane, don’t have access to easy exits. The tremors continue, they have their own families (and themselves) to comfort, and the people seeking help keep coming. There is no emergency exit from that reality.

What these legal service providers do have, however, is a promise that #UBLawResponds and others will help from afar in the immediate future, and also return, to provide further pro bono work in support of a resilient Puerto Rico in the coming months and years. We are not taking any exit from our supportive work. We are standing with them. #PRSeLavanta.

If you want to support the continuing work of #UBLawResponds, you can find a link here.

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