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.
My second semester was marked by all those benefits, but none of the drawbacks. Thanks to my efforts in the previous semester, I began this fall with a strong grasp of dependency law and its practice. This time around I was able to hit the ground running and focus less on learning how things are done, and more on learning how to do them well.
In addition, being a senior student in the clinic gave me the opportunity to take a leadership role in cases. For example, my primary case this semester involved a contested hearing and required a trial brief. I led a team of two other law students in researching, drafting, and documenting a trial brief that both drew praise from the bench, and prompted a settlement that met all of our client’s demands. This experience was invaluable in that it gave me an opportunity to try my skills at collaborative legal work, and helped to further cement my own understanding of dependency law.
It should go without saying that little of my growth these past two semesters, either as an individual or as a lawyer-in-training, would have been possible without the mentoring of Professor Patricia Fitzsimmons, and the support of Doug Watkins. For her part, Professor Fitzsimmons has an unparalleled talent for taking a group of students who at the start of the clinic look like deer in the headlights of the dependency system, and turning them into a cohesive team of skilled advocates who consistently make the dependency system work for their clients. As for Mr. Watkins, the man is practically a saint; every day he sits in the middle of a maelstrom of law students who plead for his assistance, yet despite the chaos around him and the endless demands for his attention he remains always patient, friendly, and willing to help. These two individuals are a credit to our law school, and their efforts a gift to those fortunate to participate in its clinics.