My experience with the USF Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic has been the best experience of my law school career. I came to the USF Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic having a strong belief and desire to practice criminal defense. Having interned at the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office in Reno, Nevada, and the San Francisco County Public Defender’s Office, I had knowledge of the criminal defense system but lacked the hands-on skills to represent a client from arraignment through trial.
I learned more in five months than I have throughout my law school career. The fact that the clinic offers hands-on experience with real clients taught me the practice skills needed to be an excellent public defender one day. The criminal justice system is complex, however, the CJJ Clinic helped break it down piece to piece.
Participating in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CJJ) Clinic has been the most valuable training I’ve received in law school. The CJJ Clinic gives students the opportunity to handle their own cases, work with clients, and gain insight into the main players in the adult and juvenile criminal justice system.
During my fall semester, I handled both an adult and juvenile case and helped another student with her juvenile case. I’m proud to say that my juvenile case resolved successfully this spring when the court dismissed the charges against my 17-year-old client, thereby allowing her to enroll in a federal job training and placement program that will also allow her to obtain her GED. I had not had a juvenile client previously and I really enjoyed getting to know my client and working toward a holistic resolution that was in her best interest and helps her land a steady, good-paying job. That particular case gave me an opportunity to strengthen and expand my motion experience. I filed and argued a Motion to Compel Discovery, a Pitchess Motion to Compel Discovery of Police Officer Records, and a Motion for Informational Probation under Welfare and Institutions Code section 654. I also got a glimpse into the juvenile justice system and began to see how each of the players–including the probation officers, court officials, teachers, educational administrators, judges, and juvenile prosecutor’s office–operate.
The fall semester I spent working in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic was one of the best experiences I have had in my three years at USF. My dream job is to be a public defender and the clinic was an amazing opportunity to get a taste of what public defense work is really like. Even with my internships at different public defender offices, the experiences offered in the clinic are extremely rare and valuable. I had my own clients, which meant I created my own defense strategy, it was on me to constantly communicate with the client, and it was my job to negotiate and deal with not only the assigned prosecutor but the judge as well. I will carry the lessons and guidance I received from Professor Meadows and Professor Meyer for a lifetime. I am more confident in my abilities to work with clients as well as handling the case load because of my clinic experience. I was honored to work alongside my peers who shared my dedication and passion for public defense. The challenges we faced, the obstacles we overcame, and the successes we celebrated affirmed in me that public defense is my future. I love the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic. I have never had any other experience like that in law school and I know I will be a more dedicated and competent lawyer because of it.
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.