Tuesday, September 5, 2017
This Fall, clinicians at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law boldly embarked on what was, for us, a new collaboration to create a clinic-wide orientation. As many readers will know, UDC-DCSL has a rich clinical history and our clinical program is central to our curriculum. Each graduating student, in both our full-time and part-time (evening) program, must complete two seven-credit clinics. We offer a range of clinics and this semester the five of our clinics slated to operate for full-time (day) students undertook just what we ask our students teams to do, intensive collaboration, in furtherance of our shared goals.
Over the summer we met to try to determine what common ground we shared throughout our clinics – ranging in substantive areas from Legislation to Juvenile and Special Education to General Practice, Housing, and Immigration. (Our Tax Clinic, Community and Economic Development Clinic, and the Government Accountability Project are offered in the evening this semester and did not participate in the day clinic orientation). A primary goal was to create a common set of values and a culture across our clinics. Another goal was to set the stage for conversations that would continue within our individual clinics throughout the semester.
We determined that we would first meet for two hours in our individual clinics and then come together as a group. Fueled by pizza and after a round-robin of introductions to all of our clinical faculty and fellows, ably facilitated by Professor Marcy Karin, who directs the Legislation Clinic and with a welcome from UDC-DCSL Dean Shelley Broderick, we launched into the substance for the four hour afternoon session. Practicing what we preach, we circulated a detailed agenda for students outlining our plan for the afternoon.
First, Professor Lindsay M. Harris, Co-Director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic led a session focused on clinical pedagogy. Using text-polling and word cloud technology, we opened up the session with an exercise asking students to share just one word to describe what they had heard, around campus, about the clinic which they were now entering. This ice-breaker served as a Launchpad to consider the goals of clinical education broadly. We shared the concept of “zones of learning and how, in clinic, we aim to work in our “stretch zone.” Students individually mapped out the tasks or skills within their comfort zone, stretch zone, and panic zone.
Next up, Professors Faith Mullen and Tianna Gibbs, Co-Directors of our General Practice Clinic led a discussion on professional responsibility and ethics. All UDC-DCSL students must take Professional Responsibility as either a pre or co-requisite to clinic, but this session served to focus on ethical issues specifically within clinic. Professors Mullen and Gibbs, unphased by an unexpected fire alarm mid-session(!), ably guided our students through key topics including unauthorized practice of law, student practice, file maintenance, attorney client privilege, confidentiality, and more. This primed the students to start to think about their role as student attorneys, we hope, throughout the rest of the semester.
Professor Laurie Morin, who directs the Gender Justice Project and currently teaches within the Legislation Clinic, then led a session on professional communication. During the session, Professor Morin shared with the students tips, strategies, and wisdom, but also carefully connected what they had learned during their first year legal research and writing course to their writing within clinic. Professor Norrinda Brown Hayat, Director of the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic, followed up on this presentation with a hands-on presentation for students on using track changes within Microsoft Word and clarifying our clinic writing portfolio graduation requirement.
Freshly armed with a heightened understanding of Mindfulness in the Law thanks to the two-day conference-within-a-conference at SEALS in August, Professor Harris led a brief meditation followed by an introduction to mindfulness. We learned about the growing traction mindfulness has within law schools, companies, and bar associations, and the potential physical and mental health benefits. We concluded the session by walking through the Jeremy Hunter’s Reactivity Map exercise, essentially considering the value of inserting an extra reflective step in between interpreting a situation and subsequent action as a student attorney.
Our final substantive session was focused on acknowledging professional identity and discussing the concept of feeling “othered” within the legal profession. Professor Hayat, using a thought provoking and contemporary video clip to open the discussion, asked each student in the room to contribute just a one word reaction to what they had seen. Professor Hayat then skillfully set the stage for necessary conversations about race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, and other arenas where personal and professional identity intersect and come into play throughout the semester.
Professor Lauren Onkeles-Klein, Visiting Professor and Director of our Juvenile and Special Education Clinic took on the less-than-desirable task of walking through the nuts and bolts of some key administrative tasks at the end of the day. Through this, students were introduced to key staff and began to develop an understanding of online case management procedures, printing options, interpretation & translation, supplies, copying and mailing documents.
This new collaboration required a great deal of effort by our clinical faculty over the summer, but, we hope that it will sow the seeds for working across clinic and collaborating throughout the semester. We are currently assessing the program and have solicited feedback from student participants in the form of a survey.
We share with the wider clinical community in the hopes of stimulating thought and discussion – do you conduct orientations within your individual clinics? Have your schools tried to provide a broader program, orienting students across clinics? What have been your successes? Your failures? Could this work at your institution, why or why not?