Margaret Martin Barry
Clinics and externships provide the opportunity to experience the demands and challenges of practice as an integral part of legal education. We are educating professionals; there simply is no excuse to do less.”
Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Clinical and Experiential Programs
Margaret Martin Barry is devoted to her law teaching career: "It's a great job-you've got to feel lucky if you achieve it." Asked about her accomplishments in moving clinical teaching onto the national agenda, she says, "This is an essential part of legal education that should be fully integrated into our institutional goals."
Barry has held the top position in both leading professional organizations for clinical legal educators-chair of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Clinical Legal Education and president of the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA)-and served as cochair of the activist Society of American Legal Teachers (SALT). A Fulbright Scholar and tenured professor at the Catholic University's Columbus School of Law, she has published and lectured widely, taught internationally, and garnered such prestigious awards as the William Pincus Award for outstanding contributions to clinical legal education, the SALT Leadership Award, and the CLEA Outstanding Advocate award. And that's only a partial list of her accomplishments, which include scholarship on clinical legal education and methodology, as well as advocacy for women who are victims of violence.
She was raised on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands by "exceptional parents-I keep aspiring to be like them," she says. Her father was a light heavyweight boxing champion from Britain who served in the RAF and U.S. Marine Corps and who had a law degree; he met her mother, who was from Farmville, Virginia, when she was a secretary at the Harlem YMCA in New York. He headed the Virgin Islands penitentiary, and she eventually headed government personnel for St. Croix. Barry attended Alliance College in Pennsylvania. "I consciously chose a small school that was not well known because I knew my high school training was less than ideal. It wasn't until the end of the first semester that I realized, I'm okay, I understand this," she says.
She transferred to Luther College in Iowa, and graduated, magna cum laude, with majors in English and teaching. After teaching on St. Croix for a year, she joined her sister in Minneapolis. Seeing the law as "vaguely interesting," she took the LSAT and promptly found herself admitted at the University of Minnesota School of Law. During law school, she worked at the Legal Rights Center, Inc., developed to provide a more culturally sensitive alternative to the public defender service. Not long after graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress.
She was propelled into academia in 1987 by a small newspaper ad seeking a clinical instructor at the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University. "We were providing pro bono services for people with the resources of a university," she recalls. "I liked the fresh faces, the collaboration, and the energy students brought to the work." She supervised students in domestic relations, domestic violence, housing, consumer, and public benefits cases. In 1998, she became a tenured associate professor, and in 2010 became a full professor. In addition to teaching in the clinical program at Catholic, Barry occasionally taught Family Law and in the law school's American Law Program in Krakow, Poland. As a Fulbright scholar and senior specialist, she also taught in Montenegro and India.
Barry became engaged in promoting legal clinical education nationally, and the movement she's helped lead has brought legal clinics into the mainstream. " Clinics have been something schools liked having without paying much attention to them. Now they're more and more a part of the academy. However, most law schools are still not clear about why experiential learning is so important or how to integrate it into the curriculum." Barry says, "It's preparation for a profession and, as such, cannot be satisfied with limiting educational goals to theory." Barry's interest in issues of social justice is reflected in her clinical teaching and leadership in clinical teaching organizations, in her work as copresident of SALT, and as an active member of the District of Columbia Bar's pro bono efforts.
Barry decided to take the position at VLS because "it is a challenge and an opportunity to make a difference at an exceptional school." Her husband, Pat, an architect, was also ready to shift gears, and he's now hitting the books as a VLS student. Their son, Thomas, received an executive MBA from Wharton and their daughter, Kaitlin, received a bachelor's in psychology from Catholic University, Phi Beta Kappa.
After weathering Tropical Storm Irene-which flooded them out of Kirsch House-the Barrys now live near Tunbridge, 15 minutes from campus. "Vermont is beautiful-driving to work in the morning, sometimes I just catch my breath," she says. "I finally got to go skiing, and it was the best I had ever encountered-which is not saying much, but I was excited!"