Part of the reason that Harvard stood out to me from other law schools was because of its extensive clinical offerings. Harvard has 38 in-house and externship clinics, a number that dwarfs similar offerings at other institutions.

I came into law school interested in domestic violence and family law work, and I wanted to pursue that practice pro bono after I graduate law school. I was very concerned that big law firms wouldn’t provide me the training and the special knowledge in that area of law, especially as an inexperienced junior who has much to learn in a range of areas. I was resolved to gain that practical experience myself during law school and to prime myself for what practicing in the real world would be like. I was excited to find out that through the Legal Services Center, Harvard offered a domestic violence and family law clinic where I could practice family law.

The experience I got from the Family Justice Clinic was valuable because I got to go to court multiple times and draft filings and memos­. This is substantive work experience that I did not expect to be able to do as a law student. The opportunity to speak in front of a judge was helpful for me to understand what skills I need to build to be more effective for the sake of my clients. I didn’t go into the Family Justice Clinic expecting to be so involved in litigation, but that is just one of the many skills that I learned from my clinical experience.

Besides hard legal skills, however, the most unexpected fruit from my clinical experience is the soft skills related to being an effective lawyer. For example, I learned that sometimes what clients value most is an empathetic ear rather than a hard legal authority. Because I was the direct contact for my clients, I was the one they called when they had concerns or feelings about their cases, which were very emotionally charged. I learned to toe the line between the empathetic listener but also someone who had to deliver legal realities to my client. Previously, I hadn’t fully considered the human element of being a lawyer. Sitting in classrooms through 1L teaches us many doctrines, but listening to clients talk about their wishes and their fears helped me understand what being an advocate is really about. 

I also found myself very supported through my clinical experience by my clinical advisors and the other students in the clinic. Because of how emotionally charged the subject matter of our cases were, I sometimes found it hard to separate myself from my cases. I had to learn how to manage my own emotions, but I would have had a lot more difficult of a time without the support of my clinic.

The Family Justice Clinic has been the most important part of my HLS experience. Besides the skills I learned from it, I also was able to integrate more into the HLS community and develop relationships with my peers. For everyone considering transferring to Harvard, I would highly recommend they consider doing a clinic. Given the wide array of clinics that Harvard has, there is something for everyone and every skill that you would want to develop. Harvard’s impressive breadth of clinical options really sets it apart from other schools and helps everyone become a much more well-rounded lawyer.

Stephanie Liu is a rising 3L who transferred to HLS after her 1L year.

Filed in: Transferring to HLS

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