After the first year of law school I interned at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Office of Child Support Enforcement. Through this internship I was introduced to several aspects of family and tax law, and to the process that single parents experience when seeking paternity and child support orders and collection, and to petitioning courts to adjust child support orders when circumstances change. I learned from an abstract perspective that this process is often interwoven with social benefits programs. I began to see how public interest lawyers dealing with family, housing, social security, and employment issues are an integral part of this web, whether it be as a private advocate, an advocate through a legal services agency, or working for a government agency or lawmaker.
Unable to pinpoint one area of law that I wanted to pursue, I regret that I did not participate in the Public Interest Clinic until the first semester of my third year. My clinic participation was the law school experience that I needed to change my interest in the abstract concepts I dealt with as a student and legal research intern into the first of a lifetime of personal and concrete experiences that will drive my career as a lawyer. Though I regret not participating in a clinic sooner, I have no regrets about selecting the in-house clinic.
At the clinic, I worked on a complicated divorce case for the duration of the semester that covered issues of domestic violence and temporary restraining orders, and extensive discovery regarding property division, and I was able to appear, along with my supervisor, before a judge at the Middlesex County Probate and Family Court on two separate occasions. I met and spoke with my client throughout the semester and had the good fortune of working with a truly good person who deserves better than her present circumstances, which is exactly why I want to advocate as a lawyer.
The most important lesson I took away from the course was that my work experience is my client’s reality; in this instance, this case has been the most important and critical time in her life – obtaining safety for her children and access to their financial livelihood. This is important, emotionally trying, and often frustrating work, but I could go home at the end of the day and leave this case behind at the end of the semester. The client could not, and as a practicing lawyer, my involvement would not have ended there, either. I realize that day-to-day practice will not always be immediately rewarding, but I could not be more thankful for the knowledge that sometimes emotional and frustrating work is also fulfilling.
Throughout the semester, my supervisor fostered this lesson as she provided insights into the client’s mindset and guidance with legal issues, including drafting court documents and developing a logical and realistic litigation plan. She held weekly lunch meetings with a small group of students working on other types of cases, so I learned about other legal issues with which other students grappled. We were able to bounce ideas off of each other, suggest strategies, and practice for upcoming client interviews and court appearances. This was the second-most important lesson that I took away from the clinic: how invaluable your colleagues are, and how much more is accomplished in the areas of family and public interest through collaboration.
In my last semester, I am working at a small private family law firm in a Boston suburb that provides a good amount of pro bono and discounted services. The attorneys often ask one another about their areas of expertise, just as we had done in our student meetings at the clinic. Every day I use practical skills that I developed at the law school's Church Street Clinic, and every week I am before the Probate and Family Court using my clinic experience as a foundation for the niches of family practice that each case seems to present. Each day is new and different.
I have also been thinking about what it means to provide legal services to people of means, as well as to those who deserve access to the legal system and are without such means. I will leave law school and enter a difficult economic climate, in which clients greatly need advocates sympathetic to the human condition. Because of the Public Interest Clinic and Seminar, I have honed professional values and knowledge and combined this with respect and empathy for a client’s situation; as a new lawyer I hope to continue to learn and to reach the underserved. I am both grateful and excited. (March, 2010)