Legal Clinic is funded through $900K gift and led by leading First Amendment expert, Tom Leatherbury

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU Dedman School of Law will launch a First Amendment Clinic in Fall 2020, thanks to a generous gift of $900,000 from the Stanton Foundation. The Clinic will focus on First Amendment issues including free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly and petition. This funding will cover the core operating expenses of the Clinic for five years.

“SMU is incredibly honored to be the recipient of this extraordinary gift,” said Jennifer Collins, Dean of SMU Dedman School of Law. “We are extremely grateful that the Foundation recognized the talents of our constitutional law faculty and our long tradition of excellence in our clinical program by entrusting us with this opportunity.”

The Stanton Foundation was created by Dr. Frank Stanton, the long-time president of CBS and one of the founding fathers of the television industry. Dr. Stanton was a fierce defender of freedom of speech and the First Amendment and received numerous awards in recognition of his efforts to ensure the freedom of the press.

“I am excited to announce that we have already secured an outstanding director, Tom Leatherbury, one of the most highly regarded First Amendment experts in the country. Tom will join the faculty as an adjunct professor in order to direct the clinic. We are so pleased our students will have the opportunity to work with such a gifted and experienced litigator,” Collins said. 

Tom Leatherbury is a partner at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins LLP. He serves as the practice group leader of the firm-wide Appellate practice and has forty years of experience in state and federal appeals and trials. Mr. Leatherbury has regularly represented traditional and digital publishers, and broadcasters in all aspects of media litigation throughout his career, including libel, privacy and other torts, reporter’s privilege, newsgathering and access, misappropriation, and breach of contract actions. Among many other honors, he was recently named a fellow in the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, was presented with the Dallas Bar Foundation Justinian Award, and was awarded a Presidential Citation from the State Bar of Texas for his commitment to helping its diversity and inclusion efforts. He is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, and has previously worked on cases with First Amendment clinics at both Yale and Cornell. 

“I thank the Stanton Foundation, SMU Dedman School of Law, and Dean Collins for giving the students and me this tremendous opportunity, and Vinson & Elkins for letting me take on this additional challenge,” said Tom Leatherbury. “This Clinic will make its mark across the state and the nation, using best practices of clinical legal education to strengthen First Amendment values and to improve access to justice.”

In addition to Mr. Leatherbury’s work as director, the Clinic will benefit from the guidance of Professors Lackland H. Bloom, Jr., Dale Carpenter, and Jeff Kahn, who will serve as an advisory committee. The Law School will also immediately launch a nationwide search for a full-time fellow, who will handle day-to day administration, to join the Clinic. 

“The Stanton Foundation is very pleased that SMU has accepted this gift. We believe that freedom of expression and the First Amendment must be protected by enhancing law students’ understanding of the First Amendment and providing a resource for organizations, students, journalists, and citizens defending their First Amendment rights. Equally important, we are confident that as graduates, SMU lawyers will exercise leadership in the support of First Amendment values in their communities, the state of Texas, and throughout the country.” said David Johnson, spokesman for the Foundation.