At Harvard Law School, clinical work began on Monday, September 8th, and former clinic students, faculty, and fellows have advice for students as they take on a variety of legal challenges. Below are some of the suggestions offered to students. Other members of the clinical community are encouraged and welcomed to offer their own advice by leaving their comments at the end of this blog post.
Brett Heeger, J.D. ’14, HLS Exemplary Clinical Student Award Winner
“In addition to looking for particular substantive topics that are of interest, think about what legal skills you’re particularly interested in trying out and developing. For example, the policy clinics can provide valuable experience to anyone looking to engage in local, state, and even national policy work, even if you don’t plan to practice in that topic area. Other clinics will give you writing experience or the chance to develop and present a case. OCP staff and clinicians are great sources of advice as you figure out which skills could be useful to your long term goals and which clinics and SPOs might be a good fit to hone them!”
Kimberly Newberry, J.D. ’14, Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award
“There are a couple of really important things to remember when you’re in a clinic. The most obvious can also sometimes be the hardest: the client comes first. A lot of students are used to doing hypothetical/simulated exercises in class, but working with real clients is different. It is important to keep that perspective and keep the client’s best interests in mind, which can admittedly be difficult when you’re serving as an attorney and regular student. Be honest with yourself, your client, and your supervisor about what you can handle. Another thing to remember is that your supervisor should be your new best friend. We have an amazing clinical faculty at HLS and they are willing to pass that wisdom down to the students. So while you get excited about doing real legal work and having control over your cases, don’t forget to check in with your supervisors and take advantage of what their experience has to offer. Good luck!”
Ona Balkus, Clinical Fellow, Food Law and Policy Clinic of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation
“First, do as many clinics as you can during your time at HLS. Serving real clients and learning about current legal and policy challenges will enrich your law school experience and make you a much stronger lawyer on graduation day. Second, make time to excel in your clinic. Clinical work shouldn’t be squeezed around the edges of other classes and obligations; rather, you’ll get the most out of your clinic experience if you treat it like a part-time job. Edit and turn in professional work products at each step, be present and engaged in meetings, and jump into the research and writing process. You’ll get as much out of your clinic as you put in. Third, use your supervisors as resources. They are highly skilled, experienced public interest lawyers. Get to know them and ask for their advice and insights on your goals for both during and after HLS.”
Sabi Ardalan, Assistant Director and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program
“In law school, I took as many clinics as possible, and I highly recommend that you do the same. As a student, I learned so much from the faculty, staff, and students I met in the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, the Human Rights Program, the Ghana project, Defenders, PLAP, and CJI. Without my clinical mentors, I would not be where I am today! The clients I represented in law school inspired me and taught me so much too. I feel very lucky to have worked with and learned from them. I encourage you to try a range of different types of clinics — HLS has so many to offer; it will help you figure out what you want to do after you graduate and beyond. And don’t be afraid to push yourself a little outside your comfort zone and try something new. If you’re as nervous about public speaking as I am, for example, take a clinic that requires you to engage in oral advocacy; it’s the best way to learn and receive feedback. Prioritize the clinics that interest you most during registration, and if you’re waitlisted, be patient — the waitlist often turns over. Most important, enjoy this chance to explore and learn and have fun!”
Amanda Kool, Clinical Instructor, Transactional Law Clinics
“Many students tell me that their clinical experience was their favorite part about attending Harvard Law School. Enjoy it! This is likely your first – and last – chance to work with clients while your education is still paramount to the billable hours and other pressures of legal practice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, spend extra time looking into alternate theories, or raise new ideas. Figure out what you like and don’t like about the experience, and let that guide you through your future endeavors. Sometimes our ideal career path isn’t just about the substantive area of law we practice, but how we practice it. Clinics are a great place to start figuring out what works best for you.”
Julie McCormack, Senior Clinical Instructor, Disability Litigation & Benefits Advocacy Clinic
First – Own the uncertainty. You are not expected to know exactly what to do in the first few days of your clinic, so don’t pretend that you do. Take advantage of this opportunity to be mentored by experienced instructors who want you to ask questions, want you to get good at what you’re doing, and will guide you to success. Second – Stretch yourself. You might think you don’t want to be a litigator, or a transactional attorney, or do public interest, or do a community-based clinic. Unless you’ve tried it, how can you know? Clinic allows you to try out all kinds of lawyering skills and substantive areas in a totally real but highly supported setting. And it can be even more real off campus (at LSC, for example). Third – Sample by all means, but don’t rule out specializing. There is a bounty of clinical opportunity at HLS, and you can obviously try to cram in as much as possible. But you can also choose not to – sometimes finding a fit where you can deepen your knowledge, experience and mentoring relationship over the course of 2 or more semesters is a better option than hauling yourself up a new learning curve every 4 to 12 weeks. And there’s no wrong choice when your goal is to better yourself while helping others. One sure thing, clinic is as transformative as it is challenging – so embrace and enjoy it!