I came to the USF Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic believing wholeheartedly in the criminal defense mission but with zero courtroom experience. The clinic not only taught me the practical skills that I had been missing in the most hands-on way possible, but also reinforced my belief that this work is some of the most important out there. I learned something new each time I walked into court, and was entrusted by my professor to work directly with clients, to perform in field investigations, and to make important decisions about my cases from arraignment through preparation for trial. Importantly, I also developed relationships with my classmates that I expect I will be able to draw from for years to come. This experience was one of the best of my law school career and has greatly eased the transition towards my next career as a lawyer.
The first case assigned to me was that of four boys, the Moananus, who ranged from 6 to 14 years of age. They had been in the dependency system since the 2012, and had a rough situation. Their mother struggles to be stable, and their father has a difficult time raising four boys on his own. There were allegations of sexual abuse by a maternal cousin on one of the boys, which forced the family out of their housing. Then, the paternal grandmother passed away, leaving the family with no housing option. To compound their complicated situation, the youngest boy is autistic. When I started working on this case in January, the family was living in the Hamilton House on Golden Gate Avenue between Market St. and Leavenworth (not a safe area, especially for children).
The Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic was definitely the most important part of my law school education. I learned and developed skills that are crucial to being a criminal defense attorney. The clinic gave me the opportunity to establish the attorney-client relationship with my clients and gain their trust, investigate facts, and develop potential defenses. More importantly, I was about to make many court appearances and really get into the role of an advocate. Being the attorney, rather than a law clerk working for an attorney, gave me a glimpse into life after graduation. I look forward to the intellectual challenges that await me.
My time in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC) was nothing like how I expected. Running between client meetings and court hearings, the experience I have gained is immeasurable. The Child Advocacy Law Clinic operates in a way that allows for the development of practical skills through hands-on learning. The clinic works to involve the student in all steps of judicial proceedings; building on interpersonal communication, mediation skills, attorney-client interactions, and courtroom presentation.
My experience in the Child Advocacy Clinic has been one of the most beneficial experiences I have had at USF. I have learned so much from the clinic that it has allowed me to make the determination that dependency/family law is the type of legal work I want to be doing. Professor Fitzsimmons is a great teacher. She allows you to experience every phase of the case from getting appointed to the case, to maintenance hearings, client visits, TDM, to review hearing. She allows the students to be immersed in the cases so you learn what it is really like to handle a case in real life.
Ten things you don’t know until you participate in USF’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic:
- Your priorities are not always those of your client. Find out what is important to them.
- You never know what someone will say unless and until you ask. Ask nicely.
- Your client’s phone being disconnected/turned off is ALWAYS a bad sign.
This semester, I was fortunate to participate in the USF Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic. I really enjoyed my experience with the clinic as I was able to see exactly what public defenders do to defend a case. I conducted the investigation, contacted witnesses and prosecutors, drafted motions, and made appearances in court.
One of my favorite parts was meeting the clients and getting to know them and their stories. That experience absolutely personalized the clinic for me. I met people when they were at a low point in their lives and through collaboration and determination, watched them rise and grow. A juvenile client got her case dismissed through hard work, support, and her own determination to succeed and I was very fortunate to meet this bright, young lady.
My experience in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic was inspiring and eye-opening. The Dependency system is completely different from any other legal system I have been exposed to. From the heart-wrenching stories, to overcoming what often appear to be insurmountable odds, the Child Welfare system is comprised of a network of individuals with the responsibility of pursuing the best interests of the child. These interests could differ depending on who you represent and in this way, I experienced the critical role the judge plays with every ruling that could make or break a family.
For the aspiring public defenders like me, getting the opportunity to have your own clients is invaluable. The clinic gave us the chance to be with and fight for people in some of the most difficult situations of their life. I am especially grateful for all I learned about the immigration consequences and working with juveniles.
During both of my summers in law school I interned at Public Defender Offices. In all of these experiences, I never had the same kind of client contact and relationships as I had the opportunity to develop in the clinic. This work is, after all, for the benefit of these individuals and the chance to develop a relationship and work directly with the clientele was a wonderful experience during law school. The Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic also gives you the opportunity to work on all stages of the case, which is very different from any training you would receive in an internship or externship. We did the investigation for our cases which allowed us to interact with the community and talk to business owners and the victims of crimes to attempt to negotiate resolutions. This was valuable training experience for any career which we as attorneys may wish to pursue. Additionally, through routine court appearances, the clinic helped me become accustomed to speaking in court and helped me gain confidence in myself and my arguments in front of a judge.