What to think about before enrolling in a law school clinic

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While many law students feel most comfortable in the confines of their doctrinal classes, law school clinics offer a more hands-on approach to learning for upper-level students. To secure one of the limited clinic spots can be a real feather in your career cap, as many employers will appreciate your willingness to gain experience under their supervision. However, before jumping on the “clinical bandwagon,” there are a number of important things to consider when deciding to do a clinic and/or finding the right one for you.

Research all 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 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 are in law school. Other schools guarantee you’ll be able to participate in at least one clinic.

Think about the type of clinic

There are a lot of ways to go about selecting your clinic. However, a useful way to think about your options is to break down clinics into three categories: a field you want to practice, an unfamiliar area and skills you’ll gain. Obviously picking a clinic in a field you want to practice is a great way to find out if the interest goes deep enough to be a focus for your career. On the opposite side, picking a clinic in an unfamiliar area will give you a chance to discover something new and maybe something you’ll really enjoy. The last category will give you skills you may not be as heavily exposed to but that could be good ones to have. For example, someone not planning on practicing criminal law may still want skills as a litigator.

The huge time commitment

Law school clinics are unlike class where you can (occasionally) skip reading or show up under-prepared. In a clinic, you have a client on the other end expecting, and relying upon, your best work and effort. If you have an upcoming semester filled with pro bono hours, board meetings or other intensive courses such as mock trial, you may want to push back enrolling in a clinic. Wait until you have a semester where your schedule is more open to accommodate such a significant commitment in time.

Credit hours and required courses

Most law school clinics are offered at a higher credit-hour level than the average course. While this is great for satisfying the minimum semester credits, you also need to be careful when registering for courses. You don’t want to exceed the maximum allowable credit hours.

Similarly, be aware of your law school’s course scheduling. If multiple required courses or those you’ve been wanting to take are being offered in a current semester and you’re unsure whether they’ll be available in the following semester, consider whether (a) it is possible to take those courses and commit to a clinic, or (B) wiser to defer enrolling in a clinic.

Employment considerations

So you’ve decided that you have time and scheduling availability for a clinic. Now you need to determine which clinic is right for you.

One way to narrow your focus is to think about the area of law you are most likely to practice. Find a clinic which compliments that interest. Note: if you have not secured post-graduation employment yet, enrolling in a particular clinic can help you stand out to potential employers.

However, clinic enrollment is not something to take lightly. You are accountable in a way that differs from doctrinal and seminar courses, so you need to be certain that you are able to adequately balance the workload of a clinic with your other school and social requirements. If you feel that you can manage the workload, the experience will undoubtedly be an enriching one, both academically and professionally.

Learn more about clinics, along with legal internships and clerkships.

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