I volunteered last night at the ITLA’s Family Law Clinic, which is held once a month at the Boise Public Library! (The ITLA also holds a general law Street Law Clinic an additional night a month at the same location.)
I left the library feeling the way that I imagine that I would have felt leaving the state bar exam, had the bar been an oral exam.
The clinic is set up so that law students interact with clients. They handle the intake paperwork and initial questions and turn to licensed attorneys if they need additional support with answering questions.
For about two hours I just stood there and let law students pepper me with questions. I probably only knew about half the answers and had to turn to more experienced attorneys for the other half. But I learned a lot in the process and look forward to volunteering with the clinic again.
Both clinics are a great opportunity for everyone involved.
Members of the public who may not be able to otherwise afford an attorney are able to come in and get the best assistance money can buy at no cost to them. I knew another attorney there and I know that he charges $250 an hour for his time in his office. Several times I watched him walk up to tables, kneel down and spend time talking and advising clients with the same skill and knowledge that he charges his clients. I tried to listen to him as much as possible to soak up as much of that knowledge as I could.
The court has tried to become more accessible in recent years by making self-help forms available online and at the Court Assistance Office, and I was surprised at the number of people I saw last night that had already taken advantage of those resources. There were a handful of people who came in looking for advice that had already taken these steps and had court dates available that just needed to be told they were already doing all that they need to be doing on their own.
As a new attorney, I pretty much got the entire spectrum of experiences last night interacting with my colleagues. There were three other attorneys there. One was a former classmate, another I’ve worked with in the past and one I’ve never met before. The clinic is a good chance to network, meet new people, gain knowledge and help others in the process.
Despite being able to get free legal advice, it’s not the clients that benefit the most from the clinics. The clinics provide an invaluable experience for the law students smart enough to participate in it and honestly, unless someone can’t participate due to financial or family reasons, there’s no good reason not to as a law student.
Two of the biggest knocks against law school is one, it ill prepares students for actually practicing law and two, there’s no requirement that students interact with clients or licensed attorneys prior to graduation. The clinic not only provides students with a chance to do both, it gives Concordia students the chance to do it for three years.
That’s an amazing opportunity that can’t be overstated. Students that participate are going to learn a great deal of law; get plenty of experience interacting with clients and learn that there’s much more to being a lawyer than the skills tested on law school exams; and get to interact with several licensed attorneys in the area a month.
Students that participate are literally going to learn a great deal of law and about being a lawyer just by accident if they show up and participate for a period of time. This is an ideal situation for law students and there’s a low risk of failure because of the safety net provided by having experienced attorneys on hand.