The Ins and Outs of Law School Clinics

Last week we posted about the three main law school extracurricular activities 2L and 3L students can participate in and why it is highly beneficial to do so (you can read that post by clicking the link!). This week we wanted to offer some guidance on another wonderful opportunity 2Ls and 3Ls should consider – law school clinics!!  Most programs require all students to complete some sort of field work requirement before they graduate. Law school clinics are an excellent way to meet it!

1. What are law school clinics?

Law school clinics provide you with hands-on experience in a more narrow field that might be of interest to you specifically.  Each clinic typically accepts only a small group of students that work closely with a supervising professor.  It is generally your first opportunity to work one on one with your own clients, handling matters for them from start to finish.  Many clinics also participate in group projects that benefit the community as a whole.

2. Will participating in a law school clinic help job prospects down the line?

Employers love to see this kind of experience on resumes.  They know that you have worked with clients before, are trained to conduct client interviews, and met the pressure of solving client problems in a time-sensitive environment with real-life consequences.  Clinics can help you decide whether you want to be a transactional attorney or a litigation attorney. Law school clinics can help show what it would be like to work in that field.  Do you enjoy advocating on behalf of your clients in court or in agency disputes? Or do you enjoy guiding your client through business formation, contract, and transaction issues? Law school clinics can expose you to all of this!

3. What do law students do in a law school clinic?

The importance of the bond that you form with your clients, your clinic professor, and your fellow student attorneys cannot be overstated.  Law school clinics typically involve work on a daily basis, meaning you get to know the people around you on a much more personal level.  Your clinic professor almost becomes a mentor, guiding you through this unfamiliar and uncharted experience and helping you grow as an attorney.  Many employers ask for letters of recommendation from their applicants. A professor that knows you and has watched you grow and develop is an excellent resource!  Your clients will never forget the work that you do for them and can be a referral source as well.  So, law school clinics do not just help you meet your graduation requirements. They can introduce you to resources that can be helpful for you during your career as well.

4. What types of law school clinics are there?

For those of you who want to go to law school but are having trouble deciding which school to attend, the types of clinics that each school offers can be an important consideration.  If you have an area of law that you are already interested in, choosing a school with a clinic in that field can be an invaluable way to get the experience needed to land your first job.  It is never too early to start thinking about these things.  Each school offers a wide range of clinics with unique opportunities.  The University of Michigan, for example, has 18 different clinical programs in areas such as child advocacy, entrepreneurship, environmental law, appellate practice, human trafficking, unemployment insurance, veterans law, low-income taxpayer, pediatric advocacy, and many more.

The other law schools in Michigan have a smaller selection, but no less wide of a range of subjects covered.  Wayne State University offers clinic opportunities in business and community law, legal advocacy for cancer patients, immigration, environmental law, among others. Michigan State University has an incredibly unique selection of clinics, including food law, Indian law, housing, and first amendment law.  Cooley Law School stands out with their Cooley Innocence Project and clinics including elder law and estate planning.  Rounding out the Michigan schools, the University of Detroit Mercy has a one of a kind intellectual property law clinic, as well as programs in areas such as immigration, criminal trial, and appellate advocacy.  There are many factors that go in to choosing a law school. Don’t overlook the importance of what kinds of field work opportunities each school can offer!

There are so many choices to make during law school that can make the whole experience overwhelming.  But participation in a clinic takes you back to the root of why you chose to attend law school!.  You finally get to put the academic skills you’ve learned to good use while providing assistance to clients.  Law school clinics offer a refreshing change from the classroom environment. They can also give you your first taste of the rewarding feeling that comes from being a lawyer.