My two semesters in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic at USF have been the most important of my law school experience. These were the semesters where I went from feeling like a law student to feeling like a lawyer. The first semester I focused on gaining experience dealing with clients, investigating cases, building relationships with my supervisor and colleagues, negotiating with other attorneys, and just learning about the courtroom process. The second semester this fall I was able to build on all that I had learned and worked on much more difficult legal issues, culminating in a trial.
During my first interview for the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, I knew it was my first clinic choice because 20 minutes with Professor Fitzsimmons was all I needed to convince me that I wanted to spend the following semester working with her. She is incredibly knowledgeable and one of the warmest people I had ever met, and throughout my time in the clinic, I have never wavered from this position.
I was, however, very nervous about working with children. My minimal interaction with kids, coupled with my quiet personality, had me worried that I wouldn’t be the advocate these kids deserve, because I wouldn't be able to interact with them as effectively as my peers. Thankfully, this ended up not being the case. Most of the kids I helped represent were happy to have someone championing for them, and to have someone listen to what they had to say. One of my clients particularly made an impression on me. Although only 12 years old, he acted much older, by introducing himself to me and asking me questions about myself, while finding ways to volunteer information about himself. In the Team Decision Meeting we attended together, he said some things that were difficult for his father to hear, but his mature speech and calm demeanor made him seem more of an adult than his dad, who ended up storming out of the meeting.
The fall semester was my second in the clinic, and it was a deeply rewarding experience. My first semester in the clinic was a trial by fire; I found myself immersed in a strange world where many of the legal rules I had learned in school, such as evidence or civil procedure, were largely inapplicable, and I struggled to learn on the job as I worked to advocate for decisions that would have life-changing consequences for my clients. Nonetheless, the first semester was very rewarding because of the gravity of the work, and the potential for my efforts to have consequences that echo across lifetimes.
The USF Criminal Juvenile and Justice Law Clinic was an invaluable experience. By getting the hands on experience offered through the clinic, I realized there is a vast difference between learning law and doing law. The clinic allowed our group of certified law students to do law. There’s an old expression of “sink or swim.” In the context of the clinic experience, this expression meant that Professor Meadows and Professor Leary weren’t afraid to throw new and foreign assignments at us, and in turn we had to learn how to immediately get comfortable with new legal concepts. We were tasked with either sinking or swimming in our duties, and I’m proud to say that it seems our group was able to swim with the unexpected tides and succeed.
I had a great experience in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic this spring. I got to appear in court, make home visits, participate in TDM hearings, and meet some amazing (and some less than amazing) people along the way. The day after my last final, I get to participate in a contested hearing that I was very excited about, though the timing was less than perfect. Because of one of my cases, I also get to work on immigration issues this summer with one of the lawyers Professor Fitzsimmons introduced to us.
The Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic provides much needed reality to the importance of a lawyer’s work, because it’s about your client, not you. On my way to court to get my first client, I practiced over and over, “Mr. So-and-So waives instruction and arraignment and enters a plea of not guilty.” But when standing before the judge, after having briefly met with my client in the hallway outside the courtroom, the full impact of the fairly formulaic words just practiced had yet to hit. It was not until I read the police report, looked up the statute, and prepared to interview my client that it all started to become real. My focus for the semester was to help my client with whatever brought him into the courtroom that day. Little did I know the case would send me on a whirlwind journey of trying to understand the complicated and politically charged world surrounding gang-injunctions.
My law school experience really came together for me during my participation in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic. Being a part of the clinic not only allows you to put your legal education and training into action, but it allows you to make a positive impact on a person’s life. I am incredibly thankful that I had the chance to be a part of it.
The Child Advocacy Clinic introduced me to a side of the legal profession I had never seen. After two years of law school I grew so accustomed to closed universes, fixed schedules, and hard rules that I started to believe that with the perfect mixture of efficiency, critical analysis, and organization I could solve any issue. This semester the clinic welcomed me back to the real world and reminded me that life is messy and full of unsolvable issues. My clients were children and their cases presented issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse, and severe physical abuse. Unlike in law school exams, my analysis and work in the clinic had permanent effects on real people.
My experience this semester with the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic has been a humbling and eye opening, to say the least. Looking back over the past few months I realized that when I entered the clinic I had no idea of what lay before me, the things I would feel, the people I would meet, or the opportunities I would have. Some of them were difficult, some were frustrating, but they were always a perfect time for me to learn.
Nazita Lajevardi - Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic
The criminal law clinic has been an invaluable opportunity to get to know the criminal justice system on a practical level. It's been a wonderful experience to learn what it was like to have unique attorney-client relationship. It truly shed light on critical issues, such as racial discrimination, that plague this system. It also helped me become more acutely aware of my role in the future in this system.
Furthermore, working in the clinic has given me a great deal of confidence to push for the defense of individuals no matter what obstacles are before me. Though I am cognizant of the great barriers that must be overcome, as a price of being a defense attorney, I have learned how satisfying the nature of the work really is.
I also really appreciated the mentorship I received in the clinic. I was fortunate to work with Professor Leary. She pushed me and challenged me in very fundamental ways. She taught me that there was always more that I could demand of myself; and there were always more ways to become an excellent defense attorney. Overall, the clinic has instilled a great deal of confidence and passion in me.