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This article seeks to begin a conversation on how we teach the problem of beneficiary accountability in the representation of organizations with social justice missions: How do we guide students towards a fuller understanding of the moral responsibility to engage and respect the voices of the communities most directly affected by the non-profit organization’s mission? We look at the issue through the pedagogical lens of our experience supervising clinic students, deconstructing the problems of beneficiary accountability that students faced in the representation of two social justice organizations, surveying relevant legal scholarship on organizational representation and community lawyering, and considering alternative teaching methods to better prepare students to meet these challenges. We then explore how other fields—public health, international development, and urban planning—have approached beneficiary accountability in practice and in pedagogy. The experiences of these fields are useful because they have similar tripartite relationship structures (akin to lawyer-organization-beneficiary), explicit ethical obligations towards beneficiary accountability, and a history of critical pedagogy on accountability practices. Moreover, the efforts within these professions to create models of, and solutions to, beneficiary accountability have been more innovative because these professions are unconstrained by the preeminence of the lawyer-client relationship. The formulation of a complete analytical framework and pedagogical strategy for beneficiary accountability is a significant project beyond the scope of this article. We aim to put a range of experiences and insights on the table for further discussion and conclude by identifying a handful of key concepts that we think will be useful to clinicians and practitioners facing beneficiary accountability issues in their work.


Law | Legal Education | Nonprofit Organizations Law