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Litigation Experience Before Graduation

By Paige Fern, '12

Like many of my classmates, I came to law school wanting to become a litigator. Unfortunately, many who enter Big Law will never have opportunities to interact with clients and present arguments in front of a judge for several years after graduation.

The Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC) provides students with those opportunities early in their careers. As a student attorney, I got a ton of courtroom experience by representing foster children at various hearings. Most exciting was the incredible opportunity I had to litigate a multi-day, termination-of-parental-rights trial. In that case, I represented a one-year-old who was removed from his parents' care when he was diagnosed as severely medically neglected. When he was placed in foster care, the court ordered his parents to complete various services. While his parents no doubt loved him, their mental illnesses prevented them from gaining the skills necessary to care for their son. Prior to trial, I worked with Prof. Vivek Sankaran to develop a case theory, drafted the questions for the direct examinations, and prepared the witnesses. I also participated in a mock trial so that I would know what to expect regarding the mechanics of the trial, including the types of questions to ask witnesses and how to raise/respond to objections. It was because of that preparation that I convinced the court to terminate the parental rights of my client's parents.

My representation of the young boy did not end after trial, even though the trial occurred at the end of the semester. Recognizing my client's need for consistent representation, CALC professors allowed me to remain on the case through the Advanced Clinic. I am currently representing him during the appeals process. I drafted the opposing brief and will conduct oral arguments for the case in front of the Michigan Court of Appeals. Furthermore, I am currently representing my client during the adoption process.

My experience as a student attorney with CALC has definitely been the most defining experience of law school. I have had several opportunities as a litigator that most people do not have well into their career.