FAQs: Law Students
Frequently Asked Questions: Law Students
Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic (LAW 388)
Through its in-house civil law Clinic, the Law School offers third-year law students the opportunity to represent real clients and gain insight into the legal profession through the supervised practice of law. Students develop marketable legal skills and make a difference in the community the Clinic serves. If you have additional questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by our office on the second floor of the Law School (Room 232) to speak to a clinical instructor.
How is the Clinic different from my other law school courses?
To both complement and contrast the Law School’s doctrinal courses and case method focus, the clinical legal education model teaches law students how to be an attorney: a practical understanding of the practice of law, how to communicate with clients and deal with difficult legal ethics issues, and how to exercise professional conduct.
The Clinic puts students in front of real people and situations that are common in the practice of law in order to develop their instincts and protocols. There are no given facts. There are real-life clients with problems and students must perform fact-checking, get additional relevant information, and determine the legal consequences of the information they collect. Experiential learning provides an education in developing effective problem-solving practices and in interacting with clients and third-parties, supervisors, opposing counsel and judges.
Because the Abrahams Legal Clinic is one of the very few Douglas County legal services providers delivering free legal assistance to individuals of limited means, law students examine social inequities and their own ethical responsibility to render pro bono legal services. In short, the Clinic provides closely-supervised opportunities for student attorneys to practice law in a professionally competent, ethical, and socially responsible manner.
How is Clinic different from my other legal internship or legal employment experiences?
The Clinic operates likes a small law firm staffed by law students under attorney supervision. Clinic students are not “helping” supervising attorneys with their cases; instead, Clinic students have their own caseloads and take primary or “first-chair” responsibility for all aspects of their cases, including client interviewing and counseling; conducting and applying legal research; drafting demand letters and general correspondence; drafting and filing pleadings, motions and briefs; drafting and responding to discovery requests; appearing in court on behalf of clients to try cases and argue motions and appeals; and negotiating with opposing counsel, all while under the close supervision of Clinic attorneys. Students will be asked to find relevant information, interpret its meaning and implications, and then bring a proposed solution or perceived barrier to a supervising attorney for feedback.
Clinic students participate in ongoing reflections of their individual performance and goals and, more broadly, reflection on the legal system and the context of their clients’ legal and non-legal problems. To accomplish these goals, supervising attorneys observe or review all student work and provide detailed feedback throughout the semester.
The Clinic requires student attorneys to perform the tasks necessary to run a law office, including keeping time records, maintaining client files, using case management software and a calendaring system, and providing appropriate accommodations to clients with disabilities and clients with language barriers.
How many credits do Clinic students earn?
Students earn four (4) classroom credit hours for successful completion of Clinic requirements. The classroom component is one (1) credit hour and is letter-graded and the remaining credit hours for casework are graded on a pass/fail basis. Students attend the Clinic classroom seminar for two hours per week for the first half of the semester. The seminar does not meet after the mid-semester break. In addition to their in-house casework and intake responsibilities meet with their supervising attorneys throughout the week.
Do I need to take the Clinic to graduate?
Students who matriculated as of Summer 2016 must satisfactorily complete at least one or more experiential learning course(s) totaling at least six credit hours. Enrollment in the Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic (LAW 388) will provide four (4) credit hours towards the experiential learning graduation requirement.
I’m still a law student – how am I allowed to represent my own clients?
The Nebraska Supreme Court’s Senior Law Student Practice Rules, Neb. Ct. R. §§ 3-701–3-706, allow Clinic students to participate in legal activities under the general supervision of a Nebraska-licensed attorney. Senior certification allows student attorneys to appear and participate in trials and oral argument, hold consultations with clients, advise clients on legal matters, and prepare pleadings, briefs, and other documents to be filed.
To become senior-certified, a law student must have “senior standing” at the Law School and be certified by the dean of the Law School as being of good character and competent legal ability. All Clinic students receive their senior certification at the start of the semester.
I do not plan to be a Legal Aid attorney – why should I take the Clinic?
The goal of the Clinic is to prepare law students to perform effectively as attorneys after graduation. Law students pursing a wide variety of careers will benefit by gaining some professional skills in law school. The skills developed in the Clinic are applicable to any litigation career, be it civil or criminal. The Clinic strives to identify and focus on the skills most desired by employers and to integrate specific tasks and experiences into the curriculum to promote marketable skills and professional competencies.
New attorneys should understand how to form and professionally maintain an attorney-client relationship, how to keep time for billing and reporting purposes, how to exercise common sense and good judgment, how to adapt and present legal research for various purposes, and how to prepare and file basic legal documents. The focus of the Clinic is not the substantive legal theory underlying the cases but the development of professional competencies and the attainment of basic pretrial practice and litigation skills. The Clinic provides a concentrated legal experience focused on preparing students for the practice of law, whether in a firm setting under the guidance of more senior attorneys or as a solo practitioner building your own practice.
While many employers rely on traditional criteria like class rank and law review in their hiring practices, many employers are also looking for graduates with meaningful legal experience, including legal employment, clinical experience and other experiential education. As a Clinic student, you will gain marketable professional skills, benefit from attorney mentorship, and, hopefully, bolster your confidence in the next steps of your career beyond law school graduation and the bar exam.
What types of cases does the Clinic accept?
Clinic students represent low-income Douglas County residents in a wide variety of civil cases, including family law, landlord-tenant disputes, guardianships and conservatorships, probate matters, and contract disputes. Cases are selected for their educational benefit to students and for potential litigation experience. Student attorneys participate in case intake and contribute to case selection. Students represent clients in Douglas County district and county courts and, occasionally, Clinic students have the opportunity to practice in the Nebraska Court of Appeals, the Nebraska Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.
I hear that Clinic is a lot of work. How much time should I expect to spend in the Clinic?
Students should treat Clinic enrollment like a part-time job. The workload is demanding but manageable, and many Clinic students have successfully balanced Clinic work alongside their third-year courses and other professional obligations.
Outside of weekly seminar attendance, students are required to complete at least 150 hours of client casework, complete weekly intake shifts and attend a weekly firm meeting. On average, students should expect to spend 10-12 hours on casework each week, including a weekly supervision meeting to discuss their cases. Some Clinic students prefer to work fewer hours each week and spread out their casework over the whole semester, including during school breaks and final exams.
Ultimately, casework cannot be scheduled with complete consistency because the timing of the work is case-driven. Students will find that some weeks are more demanding than others because of court deadlines and client emergencies. All Clinic requirements must be completed by the last day of exams absent extraordinary circumstances.
May I have outside employment while I am enrolled in Clinic?
Students cannot have outside legal employment, paid or unpaid, that may create a conflict of interest with the Clinic. Due to potential conflicts, all outside legal employment must be reported to the Clinic Director at the start of the semester so that a conflict check can be performed. All students with outside employment are encouraged to speak with the Clinic Director before enrolling in Clinic to discuss whether they will have the necessary time and flexibility to devote to the Clinic and their client responsibilities.