How the Legal Clinic is Preparing Me for Practice
There are many things that lawyers are not taught in law school: the importance of statutory interpretation, client communication, and client management. Unfortunately for future lawyers these are very important to being successful at your practice. Fortunately for me, my clinic experience has been quite focused on learning to be successful at these skills.
In law school students are primarily taught the law through analyzing cases. This method teaches students to understand how the laws evolved, and how to apply the facts of different hypotheticals to the laws. What is largely missing during this process is statutory interpretation. Sure law students learn about statutes, but the exams are typically rooted in case law. More importantly, the curriculum does not emphasize how to read statutes, interpret statutes, and apply statutes to the case at hand. While I had looked at statutes and regulations during my summer internships, it was not until my legal clinic experience that I realized that learning statutory interpretation was mostly absent from my education. However, since my clients’ issues have been primarily based on Illinois statutes and City of Chicago ordinances I have been forced to learn this skill.
Statutory interpretation is tricky. This is because reading a statute is unlike reading anything else. To understand the statute one must start by reading the statutory definitions section to ascertain how words are being used in throughout the statute. After learning the definitions one must mentally plug the definition into the text as they read. Statutory interpretation forces one to keep track of many different concepts at once, because there are often multiple definitions in a single sentence. At first I struggled with statutory interpretation, but now it is coming easier to me. Learning how to properly read statutes before I’m thrust out into the “real world” has been invaluable, and I am grateful that it is happening in a more intimate setting dedicated to fostering my educational growth.
In addition to statutory interpretation I have had to learn how to balance client communication and management which are directly related to one another. No two clients are the same just as no two people are the same. What works for one client does not necessarily work with another, and figuring out how to communicate with your client to solicit the response you desire requires a lot of patience. Learning to speak clearly, precisely, and confidently are at the crux of client communication and management. This also requires an innate understanding of your client, because the best way to effectively manage and communicate with them is in a way that speaks directly to their interests.
As I look back at all the late nights I have had this semester reading statutes, drafting client emails, and figuring out how to approach emergencies I realize that I have made so much progress in my law school residency. I cannot wait to see where I am when I finish up these last two months!