Hands-on clinic experience challenging, rewarding for students
Elena Rogers said she’ll never forget the day one of her clients openly admitted guilt, and after sentencing, looked at her and said, “Thank you, God bless you.”
Rogers, a 3L graduating this December, said working in the clinics has been the most rewarding aspect of her law school experience.
“It’s challenging on both a personal and professional level and it is never dull,” she said. “As with most things, you get out of it what you put into it.”
Before law school, Rogers volunteered with the Guardian ad Litem and worked as a social worker, a juvenile probation officer and a residential counselor for juvenile group homes. She has also externed with a circuit judge on a civil docket and volunteered with a juvenile advocacy firm handling delinquency and dependency cases.
“The clinic complements my previous experience and vice versa,” she said. “I often find myself integrating the things I learned prior to law school into my clinic experience. Even though I come from a helping background, for those who don’t, the clinic is more than just working with people. In the clinic, you have to handle difficult situations with limited time, and sometimes, with limited resources, using creativity and innovativeness and the skill set you learned in law school and undergrad – no matter what your curriculum.”
Rogers decided to get involved in the clinics because she missed interacting with the public and helping clients.
“I wanted to work alongside other attorneys, judges and clients so that upon employment, I would know that I was well-equipped to provide, with confidence, the type of representation that my clients deserve,” Rogers said. “Also, to be frank, I was tired of the typical day-to-day learning environment, and I was anxious to get back to helping people. There is no way you can learn everything you need to know in the traditional learning environment.”
She said some of the most challenging aspects of working in the clinic were delivering “bad” news and working alongside such talented attorneys.
“It’s more than a little intimidating, but the great thing is that the attorneys I work with are always willing to teach and explain, and I enjoy learning from them,” she said.
Rogers said she learned a lot from her experience working with the client who admitted guilt.
“DUI Court reminded me to count my blessings because it showed me that no matter what race, creed, color or economic group a person may belong to, they too can find themselves in an unpleasant legal situation that can alter their life tremendously,” Rogers said. “Another client had serious drug issues that were taking her down a tragic path headed straight to jail. Because I fought for her, her charges were dropped and she now has the opportunity to seek the help she needs.”
In addition to hands-on experience, working with the clinic affords students the opportunity to become a Certified Legal Intern (CLI), which can be a helpful jumpstart to one’s career.
“Many judges and successful attorneys I’ve spoken to took part in a clinic while at law school,” she said. As a CLI, students are able to represent clients as a practicing attorney under the supervision of a licensed attorney and under a licensed attorney’s bar license, she said.
“This is a great benefit because it’s not just research you’re doing – you are actually advising, arguing motions, speaking on behalf of your client in court, entering pleas on the record and going to trial,” she said.
Becoming a CLI is also important in today’s job economy for a couple of reasons.
“First, if you are a CLI in an office where you want to work after graduation, it’s like a working interview,” she said. “The employer may just convert your internship into a job offer once you graduate.”
“They’ve already trained you, you already know the judges and the procedures, and they already know your work ethic,” she said. “Hiring you would be easier than hiring someone they do not know.” “Also, timing and opportunity are everything. If a position becomes available after you graduate and you are a CLI, you can begin working prior to taking the bar or prior to getting your bar results.”
Rogers says she highly recommends the clinics because they will help students discover strengths and weaknesses and maybe even reveal a passion for a new field of law.
“Because of the exposure to the law you get while in the clinic, you may just fall in love with an area of law that you never even considered,” she said.
The deadline for clinic applications is Oct. 22. Applications are avaiable in the clinics, and must be submitted to the Office of Student Affairs. Students who are accepted will be notified by Nov. 1 and additional mandatory paperwork will need to be completed in the clinics immediately after acceptance. For more information, please visit the Clinics webpage.