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What Are Law School Clinical Programs Really Like? Students Explain

It’s hard to beat the hands-on experience you get from a clinical program in law school: You work with real-world clients on real-world cases—with the supervision of a licensed attorney, of course!

Often, you log plenty of pro bono hours and help people who truly need it, such as those who may not be able to afford legal services otherwise. And you gain the lawyering skills, experiences, and network that can help you figure out what you want to do with your career (not to mention get a job when you graduate).

Just ask the students who have been there.

Here’s a look at what clinical programs in law school are like and why they’re so important, straight from current law students. (Both participated in the New England Law | Boston clinical program.)

Students

Lesly Suriel Guerrero ’18
    Lesly Suriel Guerrero
    • Hometown: Bani, Dominican Republic
    • Clinic experience: Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic
    • Other law school activities: Latin American Law Student Association (President), Immigration Law Association (Secretary), Minority Student Association (Treasurer), Student Bar Association (Budget Committee Member)
    • Undergraduate degree: BA in Legal Studies and Sociology, University of Massachusetts Amherst
    Cayla Rita Barbour ’18

      Cayla Barbour

      • Hometown: Raynham, Massachusetts
      • Clinic experience: Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic, Tax Clinic
      • Other law school activities: Student Bar Association (President 2017-2018, Social Affairs Chairwoman 2016-2017, Law Day Co-Chair 2016-2017, Division Representative 2016-2017, Law Day Committee 2015-2016, Social Affairs Committee 2015-2016)
      • Undergraduate degree: BA in Global Studies and Spanish, Providence College

      Why is clinical work so important in law school?

      Lesly Suriel Guerrero: The clinic program provides students with the opportunities to practice the law not just by sitting in class but by learning independently how the law works in the real world. It allows students to learn, observe, make connections, and prepare to work in their desired fields after law school is over. It has been a great experience for me and I just continue to learn more and more each day.

      Cayla Rita Barbour: To say that this experience was a learning opportunity is an understatement. I learned about a field I am passionate about, I gained skills and experience, and I learned to manage real case loads. You can develop these professional skills throughout law school at one point or another, but I got them all in the first semester of my second year just by doing a clinic. I would do it all again without a second thought.

      When I first started the program, I wanted to explore public interest law because the field is vast, and at the time I was not sure exactly what public sector area I wanted to practice in. I was hoping to get more information about the field, while getting in court experience. The clinic was the best way to accomplish both of those goals!

      How did your clinic experience compare to your law school classes?

      LSG: Putting into practice the different concepts and procedures I was learning in class into actual cases was amazing. Navigating the process was the fun part. Learning how to conduct client meetings, finding the right forms for each case, formulating arguments and ideas to best represent a client, preparing documents for court, being 3:03 certified, and being in front of a judge—it was all so educational and made me feel like I belong in the legal field.

      CRB: At first, I was trying to apply the skills in research, writing, and oral argument exactly as I had learned them in my Legal Research and Writing classes. The classes were quite informative my first year, and they were incredibly helpful in my summer internship prior to starting the clinic. But I specifically remember preparing for my first court hearing, where I quickly learned that real legal practice uses theory—and theory and practice can be very different.

      I truly believe that experience beyond the classroom is invaluable, and that is largely because of my time with this clinic. I learned skills that really can’t be taught without observation and direct guidance.

      What was the most challenging part?

      CRB: Balancing class and clinic work. I took a full course load that semester, and I obviously wanted to devote a lot of time to my classes, but I also wanted to give more time to the clinic. Prioritizing and time management were definitely skill sets I strengthened that semester. 

      LSG: The most challenging aspect of the program has been growing to understand how different each client can be: Some need more time than others. Some need their attorney to call them every day, and others don't. Some may even make it difficult to work on their case, like if they don’t answer your phone calls, but others will always be available.

      Interning at different places through the clinic program has allowed me to be more patient and open-minded. Now I know I can change my style based on the client's preferences and needs.

      What is your best memory of the clinical program?

      LSG: My best memory of the program was working under the supervision of excellent attorneys who have helped me learn, observe, analyze, and love the law as I was putting it into practice and gain experience I will always remember. They have shown me how to work with diligence, competency, and intelligence and do the best job for each client.

      CRB: I have two favorite memories: The first time I went to Court was a great day I will never forget. I also enjoyed going to the Lawyer for a Day program as a collaboration with the Volunteer Lawyers Project. I did limited representation on a family law case completely in Spanish. Needless to say, it was day full of new learning experiences!

      What advice can you offer other law students interested in clinical programs?

      CRB: Take full advantage. Specifically at New England Law, if that means finding space in your schedule with a lighter course load so you can devote the full fifteen hours a week to the clinic, the sacrifice is worth it. I was in the clinical office more than fifteen hours some weeks, but I loved it. I still wish I had more time to give so I could go to one more workshop or work on my case file just a little bit longer. The experience from taking a clinic is just as valuable—and even more so, in some ways—as any course taught in a traditional classroom.

      How has your clinical experience impacted your career plans?

      CRB: When I was in the Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic, funnily enough, I learned that I love tax law! I had a case that allowed me to work in that area, and I honestly found a passion in myself for understanding the tax law intricacies that I later had to use in negotiations with opposing counsel. I have now taken more classes in tax than in public interest fields, and I am even doing the Tax Clinic currently (the fall of my 3L year). I changed course, which I expected to some degree in law school, and I am happy that I learned more about myself in addition to skill sets and the field. 

      LSG: One of the things that attracted me to New England Law was the clinical program, because I knew I would want to gain experience in the legal field while studying the law in school. Before starting my 1L year, I was able to speak with Professor Engler on the phone, and I knew right away he would be a great mentor, providing guidance in my law school experience and life. 

      Since then, my time in house during the public interest law clinic has made a huge impact in the trajectory of my studies and career. I was not interested in family law before, but after doing the work, representing clients, and learning so much, I have made the decision to practice family law. The clinic helped me solidified the legal pathway I want to take. 

      Does this sound like the kind of work you'd like to do in law school? You can learn more about these clinical programs here.