PUBLISHED:February 15, 2010

Introducing legal "Boot Camp"

Feb. 16, 2010 — A joint venture between Duke Law School and Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) will pair a two-week “boot camp” in civil litigation skills with a summer internship at one of LANC’s 24 offices for up to 20 students.

“It’s really a 10-week course on how to be a lawyer,” LANC’s Celia Pistolis told students who packed a lunchtime information session on Feb. 11.

Pistolis, LANC’s assistant director for advocacy and compliance, said student interns routinely interact directly with clients as they conduct interviews and prepare for hearings, in addition to drafting pleadings, letters, and conducting research. Rising 2Ls will represent clients in administrative hearings while rising 3Ls can be certified by the North Carolina Bar to represent clients in court.

“Boot Camp will give you very good training going into the internship,” said Pistolis, who will take a lead role in teaching the two-week intensive course along with Clinical Professor Carolyn McAllaster, director of Duke’s AIDS Legal Project. LANC normally offers its interns an intensive daylong training, she added.

In addition to giving students an introduction to the scope of LANC’s caseload, legal ethics, and such essential areas as employment, consumer, housing, family, and disability and non-disability benefits law, Boot Camp will focus on hands-on training. Students will undertake exercises in case management and time-keeping, drafting pleadings and demand letters, and interviewing; simulated client interviews will be taped and critiqued by the instructors who include other LANC attorneys and Duke Law faculty. Each student also will participate as advocate in two mock hearings — one concerning unemployment benefits and another on a landlord-tenant matter.

“I see this as not only the opportunity to hit the ground running on your internship, but to get skills you can take with you when you leave law school,” said McAllaster.

At the information session, John Keller ’87 told students of the personal satisfaction he has derived from his 22-year career with LANC; Keller directs the agency’s Wilson, N.C. office. “I still love going to work every day and seeing my clients.” Gaining confidence in dealing with real people with very real problems — and learning how to answer their questions — is a chief benefit of a LANC internship, he added, illustrating his point by noting the high number of unemployment claims and foreclosure defense matters in his caseload. “It may not involve a ‘million-dollar problem,’ but it is the million dollar problem in the client’s life,” he said. “The problems we handle are intense and serious problems for individual clients.”

Stella Boswell, Duke’s senior career counselor and public interest advisor, interned for LANC through two of her law school summers. “In both summers, I got to directly advise clients, draft pleadings, and conduct hearings and negotiations,” she said. A highlight of her second summer was representing a victim of domestic abuse in civil court, securing a restraining order, a grant of full child custody and an award of support for her client. “This hands-on experience was invaluable for me personally, in helping give me confidence in the basics in a real courtroom setting and when dealing with opposing counsel and clients.” While she later put her experience to use in litigation practice, she said it would be equally helpful to other practice areas. “There is a great deal of overlap in terms of the need to advise clients, interact with opposing counsel, and work as a team with other lawyers and staff.”

Boswell hopes that students will take advantage of “the great opportunity” the partnership with LANC presents for them, especially when changes in the legal economy mean that fewer summer positions are likely to lead to permanent offers of employment. “Students will need to be able to highlight personal strengths when applying for future positions,” she said. “The hands-on nature of this experience, combined with the intensive training from Boot Camp will help them develop confidence and skills that should set them apart from other applicants. They will be more ready to step right in and begin work at a higher level.”

Applications for the LANC internships are submitted via Symplicity and are due Feb. 22, 2010.

Rising third-year students who secure summer positions within the program can apply to receive funding through the Dean’s Grant program; other students are eligible to receive other Duke-endowed funds, PILF, and non-Duke funding. Funding applications are due March 18, 2010.

For information on the program and grant funding that may be available, contact Boswell, Kim Bart ’02, assistant dean of Public Interest and Pro Bono, or Bruce Elvin ’93, assistant dean and director of the Career & Professional Development Center.