Richard Boswell on Advancing a Broader View of Clinical Scholarship

Published on: Author: Mark Aaronson

Richard Boswell’s thoughtful insights regarding clinical scholarship reflect the pivotal position he has had in the development of such scholarship institutionally and as a role model. In “Advancing a Broader View of Clinical Scholarship,” 26 Clinical Law Review 117 (2019), Professor Boswell begins with a quotation that appeared in the CLR’s first edition: “The heart of clinical teaching is immersion in immediate experience and reflection on it. The academic teacher seeks to enrich understanding of the general by deriving abstract principles from the particular; the clinician seeks to enrich understanding of the general by refining a capacity to discern the full context of the particular.”

For Professor Boswell, the touchstone for clinical scholarship and clinical teaching is an emphasis on discerning the full context of the particular. He underscores the dual importance of integrating multiple voices and addressing legal and social consequences. The distinguishing features of clinical scholarship that matter the most for Professor Boswell are presentations of perspectives that derive from reflections on interactions of clinicians, students, and clients drawn from actual practice and an explicit consideration of notions of justice and values. In short, clinical scholarship is an intense form of engaged scholarship: “the dissemination of knowledge and contributions to the advancement of the law and society in general.”

Regarding the connection to clinical pedagogy, Professor Boswell states, “We teach our students that much can be learned from our experiences through thoughtful reflection. We also teach our students that the clinic is a unique place to engage in this type of reflection. If we ‘practice what we are preaching’ we will see that by spreading reflective knowledge gained from the specific case, the better we are able to understand the general.” He then emphasizes capturing “the full panoply of voices found in our clinics” as the key source for more creative and expansive scholarship. It is not just our own initial perspectives that need to be expressed but how we refine our perspectives in light of what students, clients, and others say from their particular vantage points. Invoking what he practices as a mentor, Professor Boswell also underscores the additional importance of encouraging others within the “clinical choir” to express themselves in their own scholarly ways.

Implicit in his encouragement of others is an understanding that a distinctive marking of insightful and creative scholarship is the ability to draw and explain unappreciated or under-appreciated connections. Professor Boswell’s expectation is that attracting new voices to clinical scholarship significantly heightens the prospects for developing novel and useful understandings regarding how to analyze and resolve pressing problems of the day.

In discussing the history of clinical scholarship, Professor Boswell discusses some of the main initial obstacles and continuing impediments to its production. Among them are heavy client caseloads, relatively high student-to-faculty ratios, inadequate and uneven institutional support and appreciation for clinical scholarship, and the consequences of law-school rankings metrics.

But Professor Boswell is an optimist. He strongly believes in the intellectual and practical importance of clinical scholarship and that the largely institutional obstacles and impediments to its flourishment can be overcome. His main aim is one of encouragement—even obligation—for his fellow clinicians. “Clinicians,” he concludes, “must write for the betterment of our students, clients, and the larger profession.”