Learning skills that they will take directly to their law practice, students in the Children’s Law Clinic often describe it as the most eye-opening and beneficial experience of their law school career.
There is nothing quite like having the responsibility of handling a client’s case, from the initial interview, to the investigation, to the strategizing, to the client counseling through to the resolution of the issue.
Following is a sampling of observations about the skills they developed from students in the Children’s Law Clinic:
Children’s Law Clinic student, 3L Derek Andre
- Interviewing: During my interview today, my fourth one of the semester, I felt like I struck a great balance between being an empathic listener while still controlling the interview and getting the information I needed. It’s fun for me to reflect on just how far I have come in this particular skill; it makes me very glad that I chose to take the clinic.
- Client counseling: Working in the clinic helped me figure out how to counsel clients and helped me gain the confidence to realize that two and a half years of law school really has taught me something. It also impressed upon me how much more there is to being a good lawyer than simply knowing the law.
- Negotiation: The clinic has given me a rich opportunity to use the negotiation skills I was taught in my negotiations seminar. A new skill I learned in the clinic was how to manage my expectations and those of my client. I had to ask hard questions about our goals and explain to my client our odds of success if we didn’t come to a negotiated settlement. It was a great feeling when my client signed the settlement agreement I had negotiated.
- Developing a Legal Strategy: Before I was working in the clinic, I would have never thought that I could develop a legal strategy in a real case. It’s such a different skill than reading and understanding case law. The disability case I was assigned required me to thoroughly understand the facts of the case, and then consider how to apply the legal standards to those facts to craft an argument. It was one of the most valuable mental exercises I’ve been engaged in while in law school, and I can see how the approach I used here will apply to many other situations where I will need to apply precise legal standards to the facts.
- Litigation: Representing a high school student at his suspension appeal hearing was one of the most valuable experiences I have had in law school. As a member of the Children’s Law Clinic I had the opportunity to develop a case strategy for our client. Then, at the hearing, I conducted direct and cross examinations and gave a closing argument. I cannot describe how incredible it felt to receive a call from my client’s mother the next day to tell me we had won and that her son would be able to return to school immediately.
- Professional skills: Prior to the clinic, I was confident in my abilities as a student and didn’t realize that the clinic required me to be more. After working with clients, taking ownership of cases, interacting with other professionals, I now feel more competent and secure in my abilities as an attorney. The clinic brought out a resourcefulness I didn’t know I really had and that is something that will be valuable no matter where my career takes me.
- Confidence: No matter where I end up, this clinic will have been a key part of my development as a lawyer. My confidence in my ability to gather information, to apply the law, and to counsel clients has increased significantly. As a general matter, the clinic has made me happier about my profession because it’s given me a chance to experience the potential for doing good as a lawyer. I went to law school because I wanted to do good, but it’s easy to lose sight of that. The clinic has given me the best training I’ve received in law school.
- Insight: Working in a clinic teaches you so many practical skills and for me, the most valuable part was the fact that I was truly tested by this experience. While we are all tested as law students in order to get grades, it is rare that we are truly personally tested by the experiences we have in law school. The clinic forced me to take a look at my flaws as a professional, take stock of the areas that need the most improvement, and fix the things that need fixin’ the most. It was a sobering, humbling experience, and it made me realize both how far I’ve come and how far I still need to go before I will be satisfied with myself as a legal professional.
- Preparation for practice: I will now be going to my firm with real experience managing cases and counseling clients. Unlike many Big Law attorneys, who wait years before they can exercise this type of leadership, I have been fortunate enough to get an early exposure. I am grateful to my Clinic mentors for guiding me through this challenging and rewarding experience.
Training Effective Advocates
“I enrolled in the Duke Children’s Law Clinic during the fall semester of my 3L year because I needed four credits and my friend convinced me to join him. I began with tapered expectations, because I had already accepted an offer to join my firm’s private equity group after graduating and had little knowledge about clinical work or children’s law. I knew there was a high hours requirement and private equity and children’s law bear little resemblance to one another. As it turned out, my participation in the Duke Children’s Law Clinic proved to be the most valuable experience of my law school career.
The practical training and hands-on experience let me tackle interesting issues while working closely with clients. I learned how to communicate effectively, write clearly, and interact with and advocate for clients. I wrote numerous memos, notice letters, records request letters, and countless formal emails to clients and other professionals. Some of my cases demanded research, detailed communication, and the ability to manage expectations; other cases required creativity, coordination and compassion. These skills are crucial for all successful attorneys, private equity lawyers and children’s law lawyers alike. The supervisor meetings – largely student driven -- provided the perfect forum to explore the nuances of legal issues and the lawyer-client relationship with experienced attorneys. Most importantly, the clinic experience involved opportunities for reflection, which challenged me in real time. Engaging in self-reflection forced me to confront both positive and negative experiences, which undoubtedly helped me grow personally and professionally.
I ended up logging more than 150 hours of clinic work while taking three other doctrinal courses. For me, this workload was perfectly manageable because the clinic supervisors helped me find balance. Learning how to find this balance—both in terms of managing different clinic cases and other course work— proved to be beneficial in and of itself because juggling and prioritizing multiple responsibilities mirrors real world lawyering.
I think all law students should join at least one clinic during their time at Duke Law because the clinic experience is interesting, challenging and will undoubtedly enrich their law school experience.”
– Cruz Wiles, ’19