Tamara Rasch, a second-year law student at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, recently completed a Civil Clinic at Utah Legal Services. In this interview, she expresses pleasant surprise at how much access she was allowed to mediations and consultations with clients, explains why she stayed an extra semester beyond her initial commitment, and expounds on her belief that clinics are “are an excellent opportunity to gain real world experience while earning course credit.”
What inspired you to get involved with the civil clinic? Did you have a prior interest in pro bono or low-bono work?
I wanted to make productive use of my 1L summer. As we all know, jobs are scarce, and 1Ls have a particularly hard time finding jobs. I decided to do a civil clinic to get some real world experience and school credit. My focus wasn’t particularly on pro bono work, but it was a nice by-product from my other goals.
I wasn’t sure my initial match would be a good fit for me, so I sat down with Kay Shelton and went over some of the other options. She was wonderful to talk to, and she knows a lot about what each placement offers. She helped me decide that ULS would offer the experience I was looking for.
How was the experience different than what you expected?
I was surprised at how much access I was allowed. My supervising attorney told me I was welcome to go wherever she goes, so I have been able to observe meetings in chambers, negotiations with opposing counsel, mediation sessions, hearings, trials, consultations with clients…you name it! All of the other parties involved (judges, attorneys, clients, mediators) have been very willing to allow me to sit in on these various activities. It has been an invaluable experience in seeing some of the “behind the scenes” duties of attorneys.
I have also drafted pleadings, questions to be used in hearings, memos, discovery documents, etc. It has been exciting to have my work used in real cases.
What motivated you to stay a second semester beyond your initial commitment?
I had such a great experience during the summer, I didn’t want to leave when I completed my hours. I looked at my fall schedule, and realized I could continue my work at ULS and balance it with classes. It’s a great mixture of real world work and academics.
What is the single most valuable (or memorable) experience from the clinic?
I work on domestic issues, including protective orders, divorces, and parentage actions. These issues are emotional, and many of the clients we serve have been through very traumatic experiences. You have to find a way to separate yourself from the details of the case in order to be effective. For the most part, I’ve been able to focus on the legal issues rather than the personal aspects of cases. However, there was one client who had suffered such heinous abuse at the hands of her husband that I had a hard time separating myself from the details of her abuse. It bothered me for several days, until I realized how much we were helping her to leave this terrible situation. Without ULS, it is unlikely she could have escaped her circumstances. I took comfort in knowing how much better her life was going to be due to the assistance she was getting from us.
How did your courses and your professors at the College of Law prepare you for this practical experience in the clinic?
I have used many first year courses in my clinic experience. Research and writing are especially helpful, but really all of the courses are useful. I appreciate all of the professors who incorporate real world, practical applications to their courses.
Describe some of the hands-on tasks involved in the clinic. How do you believe they have helped prepare you to work in the legal field after graduation?
I have observed cases at various stages in the process to resolution. I’ve drafted initial petitions, orders to show cause, findings of fact and conclusions of law, divorce decrees, etc., to address issues all along the path in cases. It’s helped me see how each step of the process is important in reaching a final resolution, and how those documents impact the client even after the resolution of their case.
Has the clinic changed your view of law? Influenced your professional aspirations? If so, how?
I’ve become more committed to continuing some pro bono service after graduation. I’ve seen how much need is out there for attorneys to help people with limited means.
Any final thoughts?
I would encourage any students contemplating the clinical program to talk to students who have worked in various placements to get an idea of what it will be like. I think clinical placements are an excellent opportunity to gain real world experience while earning course credit. I look forward to completing additional clinical hours.