[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]
Can you believe it my fellow 2L’s, we are starting to pick our classes for the second semester of our 2L year!?! Once we start those classes, we will we halfway through our law school journey. Some of you might be even closer to crossing the finish line if you’ve completed summer school, or taken a full load of classes. While I’m not a fan of attending summer school, I am a huge fan of clinics.
Law school clinics allow students to be 38D certified (it might be some other title for your state), but it basically means that a law student can conduct “limited practice” under supervision of a licensed attorney. This attorney could be your professor or someone outside the law school. By being certified this means you can do all the things a bar-certified lawyer would do, for the most part.
All clinics are a little different, so it’s important to research all of the clinics available to you
At most schools, it’s a competitive process. This means that you bid on the clinic you want (often by ranking them), or perhaps you might interview for the clinic to be chosen since there are limited spots. Depending on your school this could mean that you are not able to do a clinic while you were in law school. Other schools guarantee you’ll be able to participate in at least one clinic and that is how my school works.
So for all you pre-law students and 0Ls out there who are deciding on where you’re going to go to law school, make sure you look into this before you make your final decision. I know it played a role in my law school process. I knew I wanted to participate in clinics, so I picked a school that guaranteed at least one clinic, possibly even more. Some people at my school do clinics every semester in their 2L & 3L years.
There are lots of different ways to select a clinic, but here are my top 3 recommendations for picking a clinic.
First, pick a clinic in the field you want to practice
If you have an interest in family law, participating in a related clinic is a great way to find out if this is what you want to do for your career. You’ll interact with the same type of clients you will upon graduation, and the clinic gives you this experience while still being supervised and that is the key thing… it’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone knows you’re still learning and the supervising attorney is there to help catch those errors.
Pick a clinic in a disliked or unfamiliar area
On the flip side, you might want to pick a clinic for something you don’t think you want to practice in. This might seem like a recipe for disaster; however, you might surprise yourself and discover something you really enjoy and love. If you know you’d never want to practice in a can field, maybe skip this option, but if your doubt is just because you don’t know a lot about it, why not give it a try. A clinic offers the perfect opportunity to “dip your toe” in the practice area, with little risk.
Pick your clinic based on the skills you’ll gain
Finally, you might want to pick a clinic, just based on the experience you’ll gain from it. And that’s the approach I took when I decided to participate in the prosecution clinic. While I did not plan on practicing criminal law when I picked this clinic as a 1L, I knew I wanted to be a litigator, and this clinic would provide a ton of litigation experience. I also knew for my criminal procedure class, that criminal law was something that I might have an interest in, so this allowed me to explore that interest. However, my primary goal was to be in court as much as possible, and this was the best clinic to meet that goal.
At my clinic, I get to prepare cases and try them in court. I prepared for six bench trials in the past two weeks. My first three trials all concluded in plea deals that were reached immediately before the trial began. Yesterday, I had my first opportunity to proceed with two cases. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I was able to have an attorney be by my side and help guide me through the process of responding to objections, making objections, and speaking to the judge.
While there are classes that can help us do that, such as basic trial advocacy, to me is nothing like real-world experience. I learned so much and this experience will not only help me with my future cases but in my classes like evidence as well. It’s also helped me realize that pursuing a career in criminal law may be an interest as well.