The 1L Clinical Experience

March 10, 2013

A.A., 1L

When I came to law school, I left behind a job I loved. I had been working for two years as a paralegal at a criminal defense organization, and on a daily basis, I got to speak with clients, read through trial transcripts and court records, and sit in on strategy sessions. That work convinced me that I wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, but at the same time, it left me dreading law school. I relished the hands-on work I had been doing, and I didn’t much look forward to the prospect of sitting in the library reading all day.

For that reason, when I was choosing between law schools, I looked primarily at their clinical offerings, and particularly their indigent defense clinics. While our clinic is just getting off the ground, Yale has something else going for it: it offers students the opportunity to get involved in clinics in the second semester of their first year. This means that after only a few months of classes, you can get involved in direct client representation – the kind of work that motivated me to go to law school in the first place.

This semester, immediately after I took my first-semester finals, I started working in Yale’s Criminal Justice Clinic (CJC), now in its first semester of operation. CJC partners with the public defender’s office to represent defendants in criminal cases in the lower criminal court of New Haven. We’re supervised by several public defenders and a clinical professor at Yale, but at the end of the day, the students are the attorneys working the cases. Working in teams of two, we each represent one or two clients, making the strategic decisions and representing the clients from arraignment to disposition.

In only the second week of the spring semester, I found myself making an argument to a judge to release my client on bail. While we all get to practice doing oral arguments in the fall semester, the experience of going before a judge and arguing a real case – knowing another person’s fate lies in the balance – was a new experience. It was the most nerve-wracking thirty seconds of my law school career, but also the most satisfying. Not only was my client released, but it also proved to me that I can and want to do this kind of work.

Having these kinds of experiences so early in my law school career has empowered me, and beyond that, inspired me. Starting my clinical work in my second semester will allow me to get the most out of my time here at Yale.