By Tosha Dunn, Spring 2016 Student Intern
Working in the Investor Advocacy Clinic was my first chance to act as an attorney. It was my first chance to have an actual impact on clients—to help them, to serve them, and to guide them. This experience has been something of a stepping stone. I didn’t know how to do everything I was asked to do on the first day, and yet, somehow, I managed to get things done. I knew before that there were references and guides and forms, but working in the clinic has demonstrated to me time and again, that those things are base guidelines. They never really speak to your exact case or your exact client or their exact needs. So as an attorney, you have to be prepared to be flexible. You need all the basic tools of an attorney: (1) writing, (2) knowing where to look, and (3) bringing a measure of skepticism when listening to even your own client’s story. But once you have the basics you’re ready to set off. You can build the documents you need because you know where to look for guidance, and you know how to write (like a lawyer, that is), and you know when to ask questions and probe a little deeper with your own client and with opposing counsel. And probably the last thing in the basic tools of a lawyer is something I learned before clinic, but nonetheless, don’t let anyone foist anything off on you—their duties are their own and yours are your own. You have to be prepared to keep it that way too, with opposing counsel, with co-workers, etc.
And while I say these are the basic tools of being an attorney and now you can “set off,” at the same time, it took having an experience like the clinic to give me the certainty that I could set off. Clinic presents all the issues of the real world, even though you are still technically in the law school (a very nice part of the law school, by the way if you’re thinking of joining), and while still being in the law school gives a measure of comfort, you’re still in the deep end. You’re still responsible for meeting client needs; you’re still responsible for knowing filing deadlines; you’re still responsible for comporting yourself with candor and professionalism. The clinic makes you feel like you’re in a protected environment, practicing law, but not quite—but really, you are practicing. You really are an attorney, and you have to be ready to run the race. Your worries and doubts have to be left at the starting line because it really is a long run over rough terrain in humid weather. There are some rest stops between here and the finish line, but really, once you start, you can’t just stop. You’re on the course, and if you stop, you’re stuck in the woods somewhere. Going on, navigating the hills, reading the trail signs, that’s the only way you get back to the finish line. And once you’ve done this little part of it, this little beginning run, you know the runner’s high, and you just want to keep going. The hills aren’t so steep, and even when you run face-first into a spider web, you just shake it off and keep going. You think clinic will be training—a chance to apply your skills in a protected environment . . . not really. You’re entering grown-up, job land. It’s no joke, and nothing to blow off. You’re actually doing the job. That’s the experience that I carry forward from the clinic. I actually am an attorney. I can do the job. I have the skills, and I’m not afraid.