RETHINKING THE GOAL OF
IN CLINICAL TEACHING
Mary Jo B. Hunter
THIS IS A TOPIC THAT I HAVE GRAPPLED
WITH FOR MANY YEARS AS A CLINICIAN.
Striving to teach law students and others to be
competent at being cross-cultural is an
The goal of teaching cultural consciousness is the
goal that clinicians should aspire to
WHEN ONE CONSIDERS THE TERM
“CROSS-CULTURAL COMPETENCE” IT
CONJURES UP AN IMAGE OF:
Some one who knows Someone who is
what to say as well as culturally sensitive and
what not to say appropriately responsive
The idea or sense of being cross-culturally competent
infuses a sense of reaching a milestone or plateau in
one’s evolving as to cross-culturally aware.
It is a term that allows for the students of such
awareness to have the false belief that they will one
day achieve a competence of being cross-cultural.
Such a definition is misguided if not totally
PROFESSOR CHRISTINE ZUNI CRUZ:
“I specifically reject the term “cultural
competency” because I do not believe outsiders to
indigenous cultures can become ‘competent’ in an
indigenous culture; there are too many aspects of
indigenous knowledge that are not accessible to
outsiders of the culture, even to those outsiders
who spend their lives studying the culture.
DR. HEATHER W. HACKMAN
Defined “cultural Indicated that the term
competency” as a “goal: of “cross-cultural
to learn skills to be able competence” should not
to relate across cultural be used as a goal for
lines” teaching lawyers as they
prepare for the practice
of law. Although it may
be appropriate in
discussions for social
science professionals, it
is insufficient for
preparation of lawyers
who need to understand
the concept within the
framework of justice.
A LAWYER SHOULD ALWAYS BE
CONSCIOUS OF THE LANGUAGE THAT HE
OR SHE USES.
It is a cornerstone of our craft so we cannot afford
to be careless with our words.
It is our job as clinicians to teach our students
the critical thinking required to be able to assess
terminology and the impact of words.
Since I teach law students about working on
cases involved with the Indian Child Welfare Act,
I am prone to address issues arising within our
THE POINT OF THIS DISCUSSION IS:
That when one believes that he or she has achieved a
semblance of cross-cultural competence that the task
If law students are taught with a goal of becoming
cross-culturally competent, the possibility of becoming
immune to the process of being cross-culturally
conscious is lost.
They become overly confident in their ability to relate
to other cultures.
Such a belief breeds condescension and the very
purpose of the process is lost by the offensive attitude
of those who believe that they are cross-culturally
No one can become cross-culturally competent in
IT IS NOT MY INTENTION TO RE-INVENT
The Five Habits of Professors Bryant and Peters
are solid hallmarks of the pedagogy of cross-
The process is most effective as a process used
repeatedly to enhance a lawyer’s cross-cultural
HABIT ONE ESPOUSED BY BRYANT AND PETERS
To teach students to list and diagram similarities
and differences between themselves and their
Encourages student to identify and analyze the
possible effects of similarities and differences on
the interaction between the client, the legal
decision-maker and the lawyer as the three rings.
Is named “parallel universes” as a method for
students to explore alternative explanations for
clients’ behavior. This is an important tool in the
arsenal of cross-cultural consciousness.
Is called “pitfalls, red flags and remedies” and
focuses on being cross-culturally sensitive.
Is called “the camel’s back”, this habit calls for
the student to be self-reflective as to exploring
his or herself as a cultural being.
You teach a clinical course which is primarily family law
cases. Although it is not your usual practice, you and your
students agree to visit a potential client at her home as she
has a disability. Although she has use of a mobility service,
her recent surgery has made it extremely difficult for her to
move about and leave her home. She lives in a senior citizens
complex for those who qualify for subsidized housing.
As you drive the team of students, one female and one male,
the female student starts to exclaim that she is unaware that
they were meeting their potential client in a “housing project”.
She says that she hopes that the apartment is clean and
chuckles. You decide to refrain from commenting until after
Once you are in the apartment, you and the male student
remove your coats and sit down. The female student looks
around and remains standing. The potential client asks her to
grab a chair from the kitchen if she would like to sit. She
obtains a chair from the kitchen and sits gingerly on the edge
of the chair for the complete interview.
Please consider what your approach will be to debrief this
student. What “culture” is a part of this hypothetical? How do
you address cultural differences in this context?
Your clinic represents Guardian ad Litems who work on cases
involving the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Guardian ad Litem
(GAL) represents the best interests of the child in child custody
proceedings. You are conducting your weekly meeting with a team of
students. Both students appear to be Caucasian students. Their
client, the GAL is a Native American/American Indian woman who
has represented many children over many years. You are meeting
with the student attorneys to hear about their preparations for their
initial interview with the client as to why she needs representation
for an upcoming trial where the County is seeking an involuntary
termination of the mother’s parental rights.
One of the students informs you that her great grandmother is a
Cherokee Princess. She states that although she considers herself to
be Native American she is not “registered” as a member of the
Cherokee Tribe. However, she informs you and her teammate that
she knows a lot about Native issues as she has been to the
reservation and has attended local cultural events such as powwows.
She states that she should take the lead role in the interview as she
already knows quite a bit about the culture. Her teammate looks
surprised and a little concerned. You recall that her teammate was to
have been the lead as it was her “turn” to handle an interview.
You look at your interview outline for students and realize that the
answer is not to forge ahead with their interview preparation.
Rather, you need to intercede and redirect the students to a culturally
conscious approach. How do you handle it?