Saturday, January 4, 2014

Tips for law students seeking to gain additional practical experience

From the ABA Student Lawyer Magazine offering advice to law students on how to get practical experience outside of formal clinical training by offering to do volunteer work for public interest law organizations.  

Free Clinic: Gaining Clinical Training Without a Formal Organization


Many law students avail themselves of pro bono opportunities through their law school’s clinic or other internal structure set up to provide such experiences. But what if the demand for pro bono exceeds the supply—or a particular school’s clinical program doesn’t match a student’s career ambitions? Further, what happens when the number of students seeking clinical or pro bono experience exceeds the available opportunities?


Plenty of opportunities exist for students seeking to chart their own course, so long as they realize that in the absence of their law school they still need a suprervisor’s steady hand. They are strongly advised to offer their services through some sort of existing organization rather than attempting to carve out a niche and approach clients directly, said legal services attorneys.


“My first advice would always be, try to partner with an existing agency to see if they can help you develop an opportunity that meets your interests,” said Michael Bergmann, executive director of the Public Interest Law Initiative in Chicago.


Seeking pro bono opportunities during law school bolsters students’ early careers for a number of reasons, said Radhika Singh Miller, senior program manager of law school relations at Equal Justice Works in Washington, D.C. “The major reason is instilling this professional work ethic that will continue throughout their career,” she said. “You have this special privilege as an attorney. It’s your responsibility to make sure people have access to justice.”


And the student gets practical experience at the same time, Miller added. “That can range from drafting memos . . . to going into a social services office to help people advocate for themselves,” she said.


So what should a law student do to get started? First, figure out what skills you want to develop and how much time you have to do so, which Bergmann noted will vary greatly depending on what you want to do. “If you’re interested in direct representation [of clients], that’s going to make it more demanding and create more need for specific training,” he said. “The time commitment can depend on the nature of the case they’re interested in—some can be one or two court appearances that are brief and close together [in time]. In Cook County [Illinois], that’s probably not the case; there might be a break of several months.”


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The title of this article (and much of the content as well) reflects a gross misconception, that experience alone is equivalent to clinical training. Whether the clinic is internal (e.g. the supervising attorneys are faculty members) or external (the supervisors are lawyers at the field placement perhaps in partnership with a school), without structure and reflection, all we are doing is recreating the worse aspects of the apprenticeship model of legal education without building on its strengths. The pure apprenticeship model was abandoned for good reason. If the pendulum swings too far back toward pure apprenticeship the profession and our clients will be much the worse for the experiment. The ABA needs to "lawyer up" and stop this push to destroy what, while far from perfect, is the best system of legal education in the world.

Posted by: Liz Ryan Cole | Jan 6, 2014 9:29:36 AM

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