Student Posts

An Education Beyond the Classroom

I’m going to tell you what may seem like a very obvious thing, but it’s also a very important thing: law school does not prepare you to be a lawyer. Law school prepares you to be a law professor. 1L year is spent teaching you to “think like a lawyer.” I’m still not totally sure what this means, but thinking like a lawyer sounds like something a lawyer should be able to do. I’ll assume that UVA is good at doing this (probably true). I’m also going to assume that everyone reading this wants to be a practicing lawyer (probably not true).

This is all to say: you should join a clinic. Sure, law school puts you in this rich, intellectual environment where you get to talk about things like tort theory and the coase theorem[1], but your boss is almost never going to need a memo on the history of intentional torts or a treatise on law and economics. They will ask you to write documents that are legible and coherent. You will need to meet with clients and give them confidence that you know what you’re doing. A legal education should not just take place in a classroom.

Instead, a clinic gives you the chance to get a lawyer’s version of a learner’s permit. You get to litigate cases, appear in an actual for real courtroom, but there’s an experienced lawyer there to veer the car back onto the road before you run everything off of a cliff. In the “real world,” someone might be there to get the car back on course for you, but they won’t be happy about it.

In clinic world, everyone acknowledges that you have no idea what you’re doing, but they will take the time to teach you. This is huge. I’m spending my last year in the prosecution clinic. I spend two days a week in Staunton, VA, prosecuting cases in general district court. My first day, I was assigned a minor obstruction case and over-analyzed every aspect of it. Now, I get to court in the morning with a docket of 10-20 cases. I spend the morning negotiating with defense attorneys, making plea offers, and, usually, doing a couple bench trials. Every other week, I have a seminar with other students in the clinic where we get practical information on prosecuting cases effectively.

Prosecution and criminal law is my thing. It may not be yours, which is fine because UVA offers 19 clinics. Whatever your interest, plan on taking a clinic. Nothing compares to actually doing the job. Law school teaches you to think like a lawyer. Clinics teach you how to actually be one.

[1] I have no idea what these words mean, but a professor much smarter than me said them during class once.


 

DSCN3749Boris is a 3L from Elko, NV, a mining town that you’ve probably never heard of. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2011 and spent two years working/snowboarding in Colorado before making his way out to Virginia. He is very interested in the role prosecutors should play in reforming the criminal justice system.

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