Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

Friday, January 6, 2017

Dear ___________

This term I try something new. 

The students in my clinic will write a letter to themselves. The letter will be them speaking to themselves 14-15 weeks from now when clinic is over. They will tell themselves what they accomplished, what they did, and how they did it.  It is the student setting goals for themselves before the experience begins.

The clinical students will set goals in this letter it is hoped. By stating their accomplishments, they will set a path of achievement and work. The clinical faculty and the law school they attend is there for them to set goals and outcomes, but they can set goals as well and seek outcomes. The letter is a means to set them on that personal course.

The letter gets them to consider what they are now. Are they fearful of speaking in court or in front of people? Are they comfortable conducting site investigations? Are they comfortable with their interviewing skills? Do they negotiate well ? Or maybe, they have bigger goals such as they really want to learn how to infuse social justice into their work and learn it because it is what they want to do as a legal professional?  The letter can be very different for all of the students.

The most important thing is the student should be identifying their own concerns, the areas of legal practice skills that they know they can work on to improve, or the type of learning and development they want out of the clinical experience.  It could be anything. Maybe they just want to get along better with their co-students. Or, maybe they want to not be late once for any appointment related to the clinic. Regardless, the idea is to have the student embrace their goals and pursue them.

This idea of a letter to oneself came from a writing retreat I attended years ago. It lasted for 10 days. When the retreat was over, we were told to write letters to ourselves. The letters would be mailed to us (or handed back to us) in a  year.  We were charged in the letter with talking to ourselves and saying what we accomplished in that year.  Some goals were ambitious, some were basic, but we set the course of our development and work.

What I noticed from this experience is because I wrote specific things in the letter I pursued these goals strongly. I focused on them. If I had some challenges in achieving the goals, I sought help or I slowed down and refocused. Regardless, the letter became part of a path for me because I knew what I wanted to achieve and I made the effort. It was as if the letter made me push harder.  Reading my letter a year later was quite interesting too and something I welcomed. 

Imagine a letter written before a basketball camp that lasted a month. An excerpt of the letter might read like this:

Dear Brian:

You have worked hard on your left hand dribbling now. You have gotten much better at dribbling left handed and you feel good about that. You also needed to work on your free throws and you now almost never miss. You put in the time.

The clinical experience is increasingly important and is as always focused upon the actual skills of legal practice, among other things. This letter is just another tool to push that goal.  With so much focus upon the all important practical skills of legal education, this letter to oneself is just something else to use. 

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