Public Interest Law and Practice (PILP) is a yearlong graded course intended to acquaint students with public interest law and practice. Public interest law involves the representation of interests that are diffuse, unorganized, and generally underrepresented—such as consumers, the environment, children, and the future—in governmental decision making that affects them. Unlike “special interests,” the interests represented by public interest lawyers do not generally organize, make monetary contributions to candidates or campaigns, or lobby government decision makers to assert their rights and needs. Public interest law is not limited to courtroom litigation; to assist their clients, public interest lawyers must also be able to navigate their way through the legislative and administrative agency decision making processes as well, and PILP exposes students to these processes. PILP has both a substantive and a clinical component:
In teaching students the knowledge and skills needed by public interest lawyers, CPIL focuses on state-level administrative law—the law that governs state administrative agencies. In particular, CPIL focuses on agencies that license and regulate business, professions, and trades. Students examine the “sunshine laws” which require most of these agencies to make decisions in public and with an opportunity for informed public comment (the open meetings laws and the public records act) as well as the Administrative Procedure Act, the statute that establishes the procedures for the agency’s adoption of regulations that have the force of law (“rulemaking”) and its taking of disciplinary action against the license of a licensee (“adjudication”). Students also learn about some important limitations on the authority of an agency to take action—state statutory limits, federal constitutional limits, and federal antitrust concepts. Finally, students learn about the governmental milieu within which these agencies function—as part of the executive branch, they interact with the legislative and judicial branches; students examine these important “separation of powers” interactions. Regardless of the area of public interest law in which a law student plans to practice (e.g., environmental or consumer protection; children’s, women’s, or civil rights), an understanding of the functioning of administrative agencies is indispensable.
In PILP, each student is assigned to monitor the activities of an administrative agency for an entire academic year. Students monitor their assigned agency by studying the statutes that have created it, the regulations it has adopted, other decisions it has made, the industry it regulates, and by attending meetings (most of which must be held in public) and observing and recording its decisions. Twice during the academic year, students submit comprehensive reports on the activities of their assigned agency. In a specified format, these reports track and cover the agency’s recent decisions (including rulemaking), legislation and litigation which affect the agency and/or its licensees, and other important matters. These reports are carefully edited and published in the Center’s journal, the California Regulatory Law Reporter.
During the spring semester of PILP, students also make an oral presentation to their classmates on their assigned agency.