Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Changing Same

Every new class of clinicians is different. Many clinic sessions (semesters or years) have the same characteristics but each is its own entity. This year is no different.

But the challenge this year is quite different for a clinic that is, what I like to believe, a “hit the ground running” kind of operation.  Our students can expect to be engaged in the work of lawyers fairly quickly under supervision and support of course. The flexible rules in Michigan allow law students to do anything a licensed attorney can do.

Usually, in all my years of teaching there is always one or two students, maybe even four or five, who return and who provide the leadership and example for the new students by enrolling in advanced clinic or Clinic II.  These students not only can accept work as it comes into the clinic right away but they are the mentors to the new students. They let them know that all will be well; this clinic deal is nothing to worry about and is an important piece of their legal education. 

Yet, this year, for the first time, I have “0” returning students. None.  I have all new students and nearly all of them are 2Ls. It is quite a paradox.  I am not worried about the work as much as I am wondering why is this so, how did this happen?

I have two theories.  First, last year a number of students who had never taken any clinics, who had limited real life experiences in their law school education, applied for the clinic I teach and direct.  They panicked, in other words in their last year and flooded the clinic. I remember.

Most of my students last year graduated. I had three who could have come back this year but two of them got internships and the other worked as my research assistant over the summer (after a year in clinic) so that student felt as if they had gained all they could.

As for the 3Ls, here they were in their last year and had little if any clinical experience or experience of real lawyers to enhance their resume. They had to do something.  Usually, these students get a little harder look during the consideration process. We want them to get some experience so they can at least put the clinic down on their Linked In pages when they apply for jobs. They usually get into a clinic if they want one and many did. This is one reason for my new look rookie clinic.

Second, the fact that a bunch of 2Ls this year with no experience have all enrolled in clinic reflects the reality that the constant preaching of “skills ready” and “experiential” education is sinking into the minds of today’s law student. They want to leave law school having a feel for the work. They are concerned. This was also self-evident during the interviews when each student said, I wanted to find out what being a lawyer is about, or I wanted to do real work, not just sit in a classroom and listen to lectures.

These two realities met at the crossroads in my clinic and so I have an all rookie team.  I wonder is anyone else experiencing this development because more students feel the drive to obtain real world experience all of a sudden and are pushing for it.

Nevertheless, it is challenging and exciting. No veterans available. No cagey, responsible, reliable, seasoned student clinicians to provide the director with a little comfort this term.  “The changing same” of legal education and the profession is having all kinds of effects upon how our teaching occurs.   I swear I can hear David Bowie singing “Changes.” Or is that Sam Cooke singing, “A Change is Gonna Come.”

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