Ipso Facto Q&A: Pitt Law School Clinical Programs' Martha Mannix

Monday, 08 April 2013 02:00 PM Written by  Drew Singer

20130408pitt mannix150Martha Mannix oversees the clinics programs at the University Pittsburgh School of Law. The school runs seven clinics — including health, environmental and elder law — to give legal help to underserved clients throughout Allegheny County while giving students experience practicing the law under supervision. Ipso Facto spoke with Mannix about the program’s role in the region and what it was like transitioning from private practice to academia. Here are the highlights from that conversation:

Ipso Facto: What does the clinic program mean to the city of Pittsburgh?

Martha Mannix: The clinic program provides legal services in a wide variety of matters to underserved populations, people who would otherwise go unrepresented. But it also provides an opportunity for law students to develop legal skills and create an ethic of pro bono services, so they’d continue to do it after they graduate.

Ipso: How would things be different in Pittsburgh without the clinic program?

Mannix: Everybody says there are too many lawyers, but that’s not actually true. There’s a huge group of people who go unrepresented that have matters really critical to their well being and critical to their neighborhoods. If those legal needs go unmet, the city is a much less attractive place for people to come to. My clinic does simple estate planning, so the ability to write wills and ensure that their property will be passed on to the next generation helps stabilize those neighborhoods, it helps the next generation take out loans and stabilize their properties. It would have a perceptible effect if this clinics weren’t there.

(In a follow-up, she shared more detail on the impact of the program: "... I can think of a 1,000 ways this region would be impacted if we didn't have the clinics. That's roughly the number of people we serve each year, people who frankly don't have the means to afford private representation and thus would go unserved. A mother trying to obtain custody; a family struggling to figure out how to help their parent with dementia; a disabled worker seeking social security benefits;  an immigrant trying to work through the maize of regulations to obtain permanent status ; individuals trying to protect our right to clean air and water and citizens trying to resolve disputes over their federal taxes.  Take away the clinics, and you take away services that help foster a more vibrant economy and help strengthen the social fabric  of our community.  We also graduate around 100 students who go into the community who have experienced the privilege and satisfaction of advocating on behalf of clients who otherwise would be unrepresented.")

Ipso: If you had to give out a “Most Valuable Clinic” award, who gets it?

Mannix: The immigration clinic has the highest impact in the way Pittsburgh is positioning itself for the future, making itself more attractive for immigrants to come to the region. In terms of sheer numbers, the family law clinic has a tremendous impact. They work in collaboration with the Family Division down in the courts and they help more than 400 individuals every year to stabilize and strengthen families.

Ipso: Is there another school’s clinical program you look at as a benchmark?

Mannix: I don’t have a favorite one. Clinic programs generally arise out of the needs of the community in which the law school is located. There are a tremendous number of structures, but there’s not one in particular I use as a benchmark.

Ipso: The clinic program has grown over the last 25 years, what’s the next clinic you’d like to add?

Mannix: We’re going to start a veterans practicum. It won’t be an in-house clinic, but students here who are veterans have asked for it. For another new clinic, maybe something in the criminal sphere, an innocence project, but we’d have to find funding.

Ipso: What’s it like to be out there looking for funding these days?

Mannix: We’re beneficiaries of a lot of stable funding programs. The Heinz Endowment funds our environmental law clinic. Oddly enough, the IRS has been a stable funder for our low-income taxpayer clinic. But finding new funding is always difficult because foundations and other donors see a very successful research university. They’re willing to provide seed money, but we need to find long-term stability.

Ipso: When will we see the veteran’s practicum?

Mannix: It’s in the planning phase, we’ve received foundation money to start it. The need has been identified, some seed funding has been identified. There’s no timetable yet.

(In a follow-up, Mannix relayed that the the veteran's practicum will launch this fall.)

Ipso: You left private practice to come to Pitt. What was that transition like?

Mannix: I worked for a small firm doing litigation. I had always had an interest doing public interest work and elder law work, and a grant-funded position opened with the law school that provided a nice transition to work with older adults. Practicing law and teaching students is a real challenge.

Ipso: Which is harder?

Mannix: I think the teaching of students is really challenging. Helping them find their professional identity is really challenging, and achieving competence in the subject matter. You meet students at different stages in their personal educational development. you have to meet each student where they are.

Ipso: Do you ever miss private practice?

Mannix: No, I really think I’ve found a place where I’m very very happy. I’m getting to serve an underserved population and I enjoy working with the students.

Ipso: What else?

Mannix: I think we have a great resource for the city of Pittsburgh here, we have a wide variety of subject matter here. We have this wonderful dual mission of educating students and serving the community.

(Top image: University of Pittsburgh Law School Clinical Associate Professor of Law Martha Mannix)

Drew Singer is a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @Drew_Singer.

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