As future law students, I’m sure you’ve all heard the rumors and stereotypes about law schools. They run the gamut — from the terrifying and incorrect (“EVERYONE IS SO COMPETITIVE AND NO ONE IS FRIENDLY AND IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO GET AN A YOUR FIRST YEAR”), to the hilariously accurate (“Law school is high school for adults”), to the tongue-in-cheek (see, for example, Thought Catalog’s take on the 19 People You Meet in Law School). But the stereotype that most stuck out to and worried me as a prospective student was what I’d like to call the Myth of the Library Lockdown. That is, by heading off to law school, you are essentially signing yourself up for three years of good ol’ book learning, tied to a library carrel, buried under 200 pounds of Supreme Court opinions and study aids.
Don’t get me wrong. As a former English major, I can get down with the heavy reading. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and I used to be great pals; I can handle my fair share of tiny print. But that’s not why I wanted to come to law school. I taught for three years after college, came to law school with a really specific focus, and knew I wanted to get right to making an impact in real people’s lives. I was really nervous that law school was going to feel like a fruitless and frustrating gesture, a means to an end I had to just get through in order to do the work I am passionate about. But that’s because I didn’t know about clinics.
Clinics (or, more properly, clinical programs) are experiential learning opportunities available to 2L and 3L students. “Experiential” is the key word here — it means that instead of spending every Saturday night on a date with a casebook, students working in clinic are assigned actual clients, with actual problems, that need to be actually solved either in court or through some other arbitration method. Students work under a faculty supervisor, so you’re not not totally thrown out into the wilderness, but the thrust of the substantive work is done by students, on their own initiative. BC Law has a bunch of different clinic options, which you can learn about here; personally, I’m spending this year as a student practitioner in the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project (or JRAP). Student practitioner, it should be noted, is just a fancy word for what we in JRAP like to affectionately call being a baby lawyer.
Can I just tell you how awesome JRAP is? Seriously. I came into law school knowing that I wanted to do public interest work, specifically around issues of juvenile rights and educational advocacy, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find like-minded people among my classmates. But JRAP has been incredible, not just because it’s connected me with peers who are as passionate about kids’ legal issues as I am, but because I get to do the work I thought I wouldn’t be able to start until after law school. I never imagined that, as a 2L, I’d have four clients who are depending on me to not only know the relevant law, but apply it to their specific situation; or that after a year and a half of law school, I’d be preparing to stand up in front of a judge, advocating for the rights of a kid who’s about to get taken out of their family home; or that after researching and identifying the relevant legal issues on my own, I’d be sitting in a school team meeting, going toe-to-toe with a veteran attorney to get my client the in-school services they need. I gotta tell you — it’s scary, and exhilarating, and I’m busier than I ever thought I would be, but it is so, so worth it.
And clinics aren’t just for the public interest-minded. The Civil Litigation clinic is a popular option for students who are going the Big Law route, as is the Community Enterprise clinic, which allows students to help fledgling businesses in the Boston area navigate the intricacies of transactional legal matters. For all of the Serial fans out there, BC Law is also home to it’s own Innocence Program, supervised by two professors who are pretty huge deals in the world of wrongful convictions.
Whatever your passion or interest, clinics and other experiential learning opportunities are hugely beneficial to the students who participate in them. Clinics give you real, hands on experience that helps your develop and refine your legal skills; that experience, in turn, makes students more valuable to potential employers because they know more about what they’re doing than what they memorized from a casebook.
All of this is just a long way of saying the following: I was wrong. I definitely spent a good chunk of my 1L year clinging to the library for dear life, but my law school experience has become so much broader than the reading I’m assigned. While I’m not denying that the reading struggle is real — seriously, most people I know (myself included) needed glasses after 1L year — clinics are an opportunity to do a whole lot more with your three years.
I’m a 2L Public Service Scholar with a background in education and an interest in juvenile law. I’ll be blogging each week about public interest at BC, my experiences in our clinical program, and how I’m maintaining my (semi) sanity living in the Law School Bubble. Questions are always welcome! You can comment here, or e-mail me at email@example.com.