One is not enough

May 5, 2009Duke Law News

One semester is the amount of time a Duke Law student typically spends enrolled in a clinic. For 3L Jeff Ward, one semester is the total amount of time in his law school career he was not enrolled in a clinic or a course with a clinical component.

“If someone asked me, ‘What did you do in law school?’ my first answer would always be ‘clinics,’” Ward says. At Duke Law, he has participated in the Guantanamo Defense, Community Enterprise, and Advanced Community Enterprise clinics and taken Wrongful Convictions, Advanced Wrongful Convictions, and Poverty Law.

In addition, Ward has made clinics the focus of his research: studying the structure, purpose, and impact of legal clinics in Latin America for his Latin American Business Law class and doing an independent study with Associate Clinical Professor Andrew Foster, who directs Duke’s clinical program, to examine the role of clinics within law schools and how resources can or should be allocated toward them.

Each of these experiences has taught him different lessons and provided him with a wide array of legal skills, he says. “In Wrongful Convictions, you’ll spend hundreds and hundreds of hours working for somebody’s cause and the chances of making progress — in the sense of actually getting them freed — are very slim,” says Ward, who arrived at Law School after working for the Arizona Justice Project, an organization assisting the wrongfully convicted and falsely accused. Eager to continue that work, he received special permission to take the Wrongful Convictions course his 1L year.

“I give credit to those who devote their lives to wrongful convictions, because it can be a little disheartening at times,” he says, noting his admiration for the work of his professors in the class, James Coleman, Duke’s John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law and Clinical Professor Theresa Newman. His primary case in the clinic involved a high-speed auto chase resulting in the death of one of the car's occupants. The other occupant was convicted of second-degree murder, but maintained during his trial and afterward that his girlfriend — the victim — was actually the person driving. The case was officially closed this year.

“That was a hard letter to write,” says Ward who continued to work on the case during the summer after his 1L year and was asked to write its closing memo.

As a 2L enrolled in the Guantanamo Defense Clinic, Ward undertook in-depth research on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, exploring how it might be applied to the military commissions being set up by the Bush administration.

“The Guantanamo Clinic was one of those times in law school where you say, ‘Wow, am I really doing this?’” he says, adding that working on behalf of individuals he never met was a different experience from meeting and working with the prisoners in his Wrongful Convictions class. “We didn’t go to Guantanamo, but we all felt that we were immersing ourselves in a very current, relevant issue of international scrutiny.”

He also took Community Economic Development Law as a 2L, knowing that he wanted to enroll in the Community Enterprise Clinic where he has worked throughout his third year.

“The Community Enterprise Clinic has been a different and great experience,” Ward says, explaining that he feels he has been prepared to be a lawyer through the clinic. “Andrew is the kind of teacher who gives you enough of a leash that you can do an awful lot on your own. He is very good at not telling you, but asking you the right questions to get you to start thinking the right way as a lawyer.”

In the clinic, Ward represented a nonprofit organization in the negotiation of a contract with the city of Durham. The contract outlined the relationship between the organization and the city with respect to the operation and management of a highly successful community center owned by the nonprofit, which is the hub of redevelopment activity in one of Durham’s poorest neighborhoods. Through his work on this case, Ward was also able to help his client strengthen its board and improve its internal governance processes.

Ward notes that he has enjoyed the close ties to the Durham community the clinic provides. “I think what’s neat about it is that you start to feel the excitement of the law,” he says. “Almost all of the clients in the clinic are local and work for causes that you can get behind and wholeheartedly believe in [and most of] the clients would have no access to legal resources if you were not providing it for them.”

Ward continued to work with two of his clients in the Advanced Community Enterprise Clinic this spring and has worked on community economic development projects through his Poverty Law course.

“I had already been a fan of clinics, and by this year, I would say to any student entering law school here or elsewhere, ‘Do not graduate from law school without finding yourself a clinical experience or two,’” he says.

Ward has deferred an offer at Latham & Watkins in Chicago for a year to return to Duke Law as a lecturing fellow for a rhetoric and advocacy course. He will also help Foster in the Community Enterprise Clinic.

“Clinics have been the highlight of my law school experience,” he says without hesitation. “I am proud of the ones that we have here and hope that they continue to grow.”