Aspen Publishing

Back to Blog List

Topics/Previous Posts

Experiential Learning: Clinics

3L, George Washington University

Everyone is talking about the way legal education and the legal market is changing. We’ve seen discussions of two-year programs or third year practicums. It’s almost becoming white noise. Even so, I am here to add to the conversation by promoting clinic learning within the law school curriculum.

I am in my third semester of clinic (by luck and choice), so probably I am biased. But clinic is awesome. It is a way for schools to provide practical experience while still ensuring that pedagogic goals are also met. Double win!

Experiential learning is incredibly important for law student success immediately following school. We all get internships during our summers and (if possible) during the year. Internships, however, can be hit or miss. You might come into an office in a slow time or in a crisis, and suddenly the goals you had are simply not available. The time you spend is not wasted so much as you feel it could have been spent better. I’ve done three internships and have been lucky that each met or exceeded my expectations. But clinic is still better.

In the clinic setting at my school, the project is coupled with a class. Unlike the co-reqs for internships, the class is directly related to the clinic experience and can serve to supplement the semester goals not met by your individual project. For instance, my first project was very research/writing focused, but I also wanted opportunities for client interaction. During the class portion, we simulated client interviews and advising sessions. I was able to see my strengths and weaknesses in my interactions with clients and create a plan of action to work on my weaknesses.

The class also includes substantive instruction on the law of the specific clinic. This substance is connected to the projects. The implications of the various rules and procedures and norms are instantly important for the student. The law of the classroom is not relegated to three or four hours of finals after a stress-inducing study period.

The projects themselves provide opportunities to partner with experienced attorneys working on the individual cases. The main benefit, for me at least, has been to see how those attorneys took our initial work and then put it in the context of their experience. What was especially enlightening was the way they understood and could explain strategy of the litigation, drawing from their years working in the system on different cases. As good as some of my substantive classes have been, they have not given me this kind of insight.

I am sure that there are sub-par clinics out there that students leave feeling like they just paid good money for a mediocre experience. I am sure there are students at my school that feel our clinics fit in this category. When clinics are done well, however, they fill an obvious gap in classroom-only legal education and can allow students the opportunity to try different areas of law or types of practice, gaining lawyer skills on which they can build their fledgling careers.

I love substantive classes. I love learning. I would take classes forever if I could get someone to pay me for it. But the clinic experience allowed me to successfully deal with complicated legal issues for real clients with real problems. And having faced this challenge, I am better prepared to leave law school and start my legal career.

Leave a Comment

(Input is case sensitive)

 Only comments approved by post author will be displayed

Back to Blog List