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By Yonatan Berkovits, '10
When you join the Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC), you stop being a law student and start being a lawyer. Here's the difference. The typical law school exam is a series of absurd hypothetical questions designed to test your understanding of legal principles. All your supposed "clients" are nephews who were bequeathed Blackacre by their uncle or widget-makers whose factories were destroyed in a freak fire. Unless you join some widget-focused practice group, you are unlikely to encounter these situations in your actual practice.
In real life, clients' problems can't be solved by typing nonstop at a computer for three hours. Real clients want you to resolve their issues, not just spot them.
The Child Advocacy Law Clinic is real life. The clients are sometimes struggling mothers in danger of losing their kids to the state. Or, they are fathers fighting for the right to be part of their children's lives. Sometimes, they are even the children themselves. When you represent these people as part of CALC, you don't just sit in a room with a pen and paper, devising legal strategies (although you certainly do plenty of that). You also meet with and get to know the clients. You stand up in front of a judge and announce that you represent this mother, father, or child. That, in itself, is an empowering experience you just don't get in the rest of law school.
CALC operates not like a class, but like a law firm. While the professors are there to help with your cases, they're rarely going to just tell you what to do. This puts a huge power and an accompanying responsibility into your hands. You, not your professor, will appear in court. You, not anyone else, will negotiate with opposing counsel. The arguments you make have the power to sway an actual, real-life judge. It is not a hypothetical. The outcome can literally change a client's life.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with regular law-school classes. But when you graduate, you'll be tossed rudely back into the real world. Whether you end up working at a giant firm or a tiny solo practice, very few of your clients will ask about the Rule Against Perpetuities. They will, however, expect you to craft an argument, think on your feet, and solve legal problems creatively. These are exactly the skills that students develop in CALC.
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