Brian Mahler (Class of 2008)
Applying coursebook cases to a final exam question has its challenges; applying research about your own case to a question asked by a hearing officer is a whole different story. Through the New England School of Law Clinic Program, students are able to practice law as early as fall semester of their second year. As I had worked for a number of years as an educator prior to my arrival at NESL, I especially wanted to spend time out of the classroom and in real-life situations helping others assert their legal rights.
I first participated in the Public Interest Clinic, representing clients at an unemployment hearing and a social security hearing. Under the student practice rule, S.J.C. Rule 3:03, I interviewed my clients, researched the relevant laws, prepared litigation strategies, argued the cases, and submitted to the hearing agency a statement of proposed findings that I had written. Through the entire process, my supervising attorney helped me interview our clients, advised me on timeframes, critiqued my direct and cross examination questions, sat in at all of my hearings, and provided me feedback.
I later interned at the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) through the Administrative Law Clinic. This work involved investigating complaints of a school discriminating against a student on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. My supervising attorney and I read complaints, visited a number of schools to interview administrators and teachers, followed up with the complainant and school, and drafted resolution letters indicating whether we had found a violation.
Generally, Professor Engler has a list of potential placements for all the clinics. For example, a number of us in the Public Interest Clinic were based at the school’s Church Street building. However, he also gives students the freedom to contact an organization in which they have an interest. I contacted OCR on my own, as the agency was a great fit for both the Administrative Law Clinic and my interest in education.
Outside of the clinical program, I volunteered for a number of organizations while in law school. During the summer after my first year, I interned at Ed Law Project, helping to represent students at school disciplinary hearings and special education meetings. OCR credited this experience, along with my teaching background, as one of their reasons for agreeing to serve as my Administrative Law Clinic placement. During the summer after my second year, I interned for the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The interview for this position occurred in the fall of my second year, and having both the Ed Law Project and Public Interest Clinic on my resume made me an attractive candidate. I also participated in the Honors Judicial Internship, working for Judge Lauriat in Superior Court. In this role, I read through case files, drafted memos, consulted on opinions, and watched trials and motion hearings. I expect to do more of the same next fall, when I rejoin the workforce as a law clerk for the Superior Court.
Within school, I also served on the executive board of the New England School of Law breach of the ACLU, chaired the SBA Executive Office of Alumni Relations, and wrote for Due Process, NESL’s student magazine. Outside school, I joined up with “Big Brothers Big Sisters” and often had lunch with my “little brother” down the street at Renaissance Charter School. In addition to the New England School of Law Clinic Program, I highly recommend that incoming students take an active role in other campus activities and give something back to the surrounding community. As a bonus, there’s bound to be free pizza somewhere.