Being in school for 20+ years, it is often difficult for soon-to-be attorneys to view themselves as anything but students. Though functioning as lawyers while in working in clinic, there is sense that there is a safety net surrounding the student. They are able to perform the legal work and analysis in the clinic, while having a steady hand nearby, guiding and assuring nothing bad will happen. Being more then three quarters of the way through the clinical experience and watching the hand full of students prepare for their first steps outside of the comfort of student life, there is a moment of pause and reflection. Growth has occurred in the passed months that have truly prepared the students for those next steps.
A natural shedding of the student identity occurs throughout the clinic process. During the first meeting with the client, the unknowing, insecure clinic student holds onto whatever preparation and notes they have as if they are the only weapons left for them to fight with. The answer to any question a client may have is printed in black and white on the piece of paper grasped tightly in front of them. As soon as that student gets asked the curve-ball question they didn’t see coming, their face goes a bit pale. They struggle. They learn. They answer the question. They move on. This initial struggle is one of the biggest moments for that student. It begins that transition of having to rely on the knowledge and skills that they have gained rather than their casebooks and outlines.
By the second semester of this experience, those notes and preparation are two of many tools in the toolbox brought to a client meeting. They are accompanied by confidence, newfound knowledge, experience, and a sense of ease. There is a refinement that comes with the student being allowed to make those calculated risks that only the clinic environment provides. The mistakes and lessons that most attorneys painfully struggle through durinf their first years in practice are introduced a bit sooner to the clinic student so that they can start mentally preparing for the road ahead.
The next challenge the student has to overcome is making sure that the client and other professionals view them the way they view themselves. Just as the students initially need to prove to themselves that they are able to take on the real legal world, the clients that they work with often need reassurance as well. Another transformation takes place in this sense. As the student gains that sense of confidence, the client gains confidence as well. So much of being professional is the ability to carry oneself in a professional and competent manner. The client can sense this. The confidence that the student has gained fills up the room and puts the client at ease. They are able to look to the student as their acting attorney and are secure in the idea that their issues will get resolved.
As the end of the clinic fast approaches, this transformation from student to professional is more tangible than ever. These newly acquired skills are being used on a daily basis. There is reassurance that once the student is removed from the learning environment, they will be able to take on the new role that they are thrust into. One of the most fundamental realizations gained from the clinic is that others will perceive the student the way they choose to be perceived. By having confidence in their abilities, students are able to command the respect of even the most seasoned professionals.