My Clinic Story: Professional Growth and Skills Based Learning for the Real World

To apply for our Fall 2015 semester, please use the in-house clinics application form, located here.  Applications are due no later than February 27 at 7:00 p.m.

By Christopher Pugh, Fall 2014 Student Intern

pughA first year law student faces complex legal problems in the form of hypotheticals.  And this is an effective way to learn the law.  But these hypotheticals are written by law professors who provide facts that ultimately lead to a satisfactory legal conclusion.  Any facts that would lead the law students down a fruitless rabbit hole are generally avoided in these hypotheticals.  In the real world with real clients, there are many rabbit holes that must be explored if your goal is, as it should be, to zealously represent your client.  My time in the Investor Advocacy Clinic at Georgia State University College of Law taught me that the facts are not always on your side when representing real clients, but you must soldier on and find ways to be creative in search of new legal angles.  My time with the Investor Advocacy Clinic allowed me to break free from the hypothetical Wonderland of the first year and grow as a professional while developing the legal skills I need to become an effective lawyer.

My professional growth in the clinic this semester included learning how lawyers communicate with each other.  In this regard, I wrote demand letters to other lawyers, analyzed their responses to the clinic and learned that even speaking with other lawyers requires measuring every word.  The experiential learning that the clinic provides also allowed me to grow professionally through legal creativity.  Often creativity is an unbounded free flow of thoughts that sometimes leads to good ideas.  And this is the method of creativity that many of us learn in former jobs and in life.  In the clinic this semester, I realized that legal creativity is not so unbounded and requires that your ideas, for legal problem solving, must be squared with the law and the rules of professional conduct.  Put differently, I learned in the clinic that creativity must have some basis in the law or else you just find yourself lost in another rabbit hole.  This type of professional growth cannot be found in a hypothetical Wonderland—only experience with real world legal problems, like I faced in the clinic semester, can teach true legal creativity.

Legal creativity is useless if you do not have the skills to bring your ideas to bear on your clients’ legal problems.  I came to law school as a nontraditional student without a legal background.  When I started working in the clinic, my legal skills were limited to what I learned in the first year’s hypothetical Wonderland.  I had no idea how to actually practice law inside a law firm.  This semester in the clinic, my team had three clients—each with a different type of case at different stages.  This diversity provided an opportunity to develop a wide array of skills.  I wrote case plans, transaction memos, demand letters and I even learned a thing or two about fancy copying machines.

Most importantly, my clinic experience developed the essential skills every lawyer needs to effectively communicate with their clients.  During my semester in the clinic, I conducted two client intake interviews and communicated with my clients in person, by phone and electronically.  These experiences developed my skills as an investigator and diplomat.  We were always thinking about not only what questions we should ask the clients, but also how we should ask them and what follow up questions the client’s answers might lead to.  Although my new skills are still developing and have plenty of room for improvement, my time in the clinic this semester formed a strong skills foundation that I can build on for the remaining three semesters.

Unfortunately, just as my new professional growth and skills are starting to coalesce to form an effective practicing lawyer, it is time for me to move on.  The semester only lasts for less than four months, but in that short time my clinical training laid the foundation for a career in the legal profession that I can build upon for a lifetime.  Leaving the clinic so soon is difficult because I care about what happens with my clients’ cases after I am gone.  But I know that next semester, they will be in the good hands of some of the brightest law students in the world, guided by an amazing professor.  I know that my clinic experience will make me a better law student now, and someday a better lawyer. I would recommend the Investor Advocacy Clinic to any law student that seeks to become an effective practicing professional.