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Legal Clinics: Turning Theory Into Practice
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Tired of case books and lecture halls? Legal clinics give you the opportunity to finally get your hands dirty.
A legal clinic is program that allows you to practice real law (under supervision, of course) before you earn your JD and pass the bar exam. You represent clients by counseling them, investigating their cases, writing memos and appearing on their behalf in court. The nature of the work depends on the type of clinic. Clinics may focus on any number of areas from family law to criminal defense.
Clinics are generally open only to 3Ls (and sometimes 2Ls), and you'll need to apply through your school. Competition for open spots is often intense. To get in, you'll usually need to interview with a clinic administrator, who will ask about your grades, experience and goals. You should prepare as if you were attending a job interview.
You will get credit for the clinical program, and there is often a classroom component. But you'll spend most of your time in the clinic office preparing for cases and helping clients alongside practicing attorneys (and a professor or two).
Like law review or moot court, the experience you gain in a clinical program can make you very attractive to potential employers. You'll be able to tell law firms that you've appeared in court and represented real clients or prosecuted actual criminals. Clinic administrators and faculty can write you recommendations that speak to your skills in these settings. That said, a clinic is extremely time-consuming and you should be careful not to let your grades slip because of the work involved. Law firms still consider grades the single most important factor when deciding whom to hire.
If you're just looking to build your resume, a clinic is not for you. The time commitment is too intense and you would do better to focus on excelling in regular classes. If you're hoping to build your skills as a future lawyer and make a difference in the lives of clients, however, then a clinic is a smart choice.