Dick and Joan Jacobs Public Interest Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment
Too often the voiceless and silenced are also the most vulnerable and impacted by environmental harms. Obstacles to participation in democracy undermine access to safeguards for air, climate, land, water, and biodiversity. Therefore, we must defend democracy to ensure a resilient environment.
Florida is ground zero for some of the most significant threats to our environment, communities, and democracy. Rising seas and sprawling development make Florida exceptionally vulnerable to climate change and biodiversity loss. The mounting costs from hurricanes and flood events, harmful algae blooms, and industrial pollution highlight significant environmental injustices. Deeply linked to these injustices are ongoing attacks on voting rights and freedom of speech and assembly – vital tools for the democratic functioning of our society and for combating environmental injustices. These issues demand commonsense solutions, governmental transparency and accountability, and greater access to more inclusive decision-making.
Jacobs Law Clinic Mission
Recognizing the health of our environment and of our communities are inextricably linked and entirely dependent on a functioning and just democracy, the Jacobs Law Clinic pursues and defends justice through advocacy focused on Florida’s most pressing environmental issues. It is centered on the mutually reinforcing yet independent principles of the freedom to influence and participate in decision-making and the ability to seek relief from harm.
The Jacobs Law Clinic provides a much-needed public service of pro bono legal aid while affording Stetson’s law students opportunities to represent underserved clients with hands-on case management and the development of the advocacy skills necessary to be successful attorneys.
Building upon the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice adopted in 1991 by the “First National People of Color Environmental Justice Leadership Summit,” the Jacobs Law Clinic:
- Works to protect against harmful industries, practices and policies that threaten fundamental rights to clean air, water, land, education, food, and democracy; and
- Works to ensure fundamental rights to political, economic, cultural, and environmental self-determination through securing the right to participate meaningfully in decision-making, including informed consent, needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement, and redress.
Through careful interdisciplinary investigation of the context of these issues, law students in the Jacobs Law Clinic learn how to identify and advocate on issues while advancing law and policy to help Florida thrive by addressing 21st-century challenges.
Basic Tenets of a Healthy Democracy and Environment
Every person has a right to dignity, which includes a healthy environment. That dignity is best protected by a just democracy. The Jacobs Law Clinic seeks to protect key underpinnings of democracy: the right to vote, constitutional checks and balances, First Amendment rights of speech and assembly, and access to information.
- Voting is the foundation of democracy. Voters must have equitable access to free and fair elections.
- Constitutional checks and balances of the three branches of government are other cornerstones of democracy. A law-abiding, transparent elected government is essential to pass laws that reflect the will of the people and to ensure the judiciary, can fulfill its role as the impartial and accountable arbiter of what is the law of the land.
- The power of the people to protest, petition, and influence decision-makers without fear of reprisal or other harm is vital to our system of governance.
- Access to accurate information is vital to informed decision-making.
Jacobs Law Clinic Student Learning Outcomes
The goals of the Jacobs Law Clinic are to prepare its students for admission to the bar and for the effective and ethical representation of clients in the legal profession. The primary objectives of the Jacobs Law Clinic are to cultivate critical thinking and improve research, writing, and oral advocacy skills. The Jacobs Law Clinic involves a classroom component that will help prepare students to generally understand U.S. environmental laws and the framework for implementing them, effectively communicate with clients about which laws or policies might be at issue, and apply legal analysis in preparing professional quality work products.
About Dick and Joan Jacobs
Dick and Joan Jacobs married in 1953 while they were students at the University of Wisconsin. After Dick’s military service, Dick and Joan moved to Florida, and in 1967, Dick graduated from Stetson University College of Law, first in his class, magna cum laude, and with the highest score on the Florida Bar Exam. Dick commenced his legal practice in 1967 after his ten-year business career and his law firm grew to be the largest on Florida’s West Coast. In 1983, he took a leave of absence from his firm to serve as president of a bank. As a result of that experience, he wrote the book, Crash Landing Surviving a Business Crisis. In addition to Crash Landing, Dick has authored and co-authored several books and legal publications including Regulation of Financial Planners, Health Care Mergers and Acquisitions: Physician Practices, Professional Limited Liability Company: The Entity of Choice, Splitting Fees or Splitting Hairs-Fee Splitting and Health Care, and Asset Protection Tools for Florida Professionals: Strategies to Pursue and Strategies to Avoid.
In 2015, Dick joined the law firm Johnson Pope and wrote Wonderlust, a book of his photography and lessons learned trekking all seven continents. In 2016, Dick and Joan Jacobs established Stetson’s Environmental Law Externship Fund, a scholarship supporting experiential learning. The Jacobs created the Jacobs Law Clinic Fund believing that:
With the ecological and environmental challenges we face in our 21st Century, our law graduates will be particularly responsible to shape the direction not only of America but of the health and well-being of the only home we have ever known, our Earth. Thus, it is important they have meaningful external experiences to shape how they practice environmental law.
The Jacobses soon came to the realization that the United States cannot have a thriving, healthy, and resilient environment without a thriving, healthy and resilient democracy, and in 2020 donated a generous gift to Stetson, establishing an endowment fund to create the Dick and Joan Jacobs Public Interest Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment. Also in 2020, Dick wrote Democracy of Dollars, a book about the nation's troubled system of constitutional government. Dick speaks frequently on climate change, sea level rise and democracy issues such as voter suppression