Law Students Take on the Coal Industry

Black lung street, via the clinic's website.This post is simply some extracts from a story in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education (sub req’d) about the Law School where I have spent this semester:

Law Students Take on the Coal Industry


Lexington, Va.

Noah Lauricella has seen a middle-aged man take several minutes to walk the 20 yards between his house and his mailbox, then spend several minutes more recovering from the exertion. … “It is heart wrenching,” says Mr. Lauricella, a second-year law student taking part in Washington and Lee University’s Black Lung Clinic….

According to United Mine Workers of America, about 1,400 miners die each year from black lung, or pneumoconiosis, which is caused by breathing coal dust, and whose onset is often delayed by 20 or more years. … Black-lung sufferers find themselves in what Andrew Wolfe McThenia, the law professor who was the driving force behind the formation of the clinic, in 1996, calls “Dickens’ worst idea of the law … Case files can be measured not by inches, but by feet” …

Since the clinic opened, more than 100 students have represented about 200 clients, and have achieved a success rate of 50 percent, in part by pressing only the claims most likely to succeed. But clients often die before cases are finished. Two cases that the clinic took on in 1996 are still under appeal. Even when former miners win benefits, their ordeals continue: Mining companies can, and generally do, demand that benefits be repaid if company appeals overturn awards. …

The Black Lung Clinic is only one of many important clinics at WLU’s Law School; how and when will Irish legal education be able to undertake similar socially worthy and pedagogically valuable initiatives?