Practice Your Lawyering Skills

Civil Clinic students take Lawyering Skills Survey, which will be taught by Adjunct Professor Benjamin Cook on Monday/Tuesday mornings at 10:45 a.m. during the spring semester.  Click here for Professor Cook’s biography, which describes his extensive national and international practice as a mediator.  An experienced educator, Professor Cook is currently working on mediation training projects in Nigeria and Uganda and has taught negotiation at the Harvard Negotiation Institute. In the following story, two current students enrolled in the Lawyering Skills course, Kelsey Forsyth and Joshua Lindley, talk about the class and their Civil Clinics.

Joshua Lindley:   The purpose of the Lawyering Skills Survey class is to help students learn the skills necessary for effective interviewing, counseling, and negotiating.  Taking the Lawyering Skills class in conjunction with a clinic has proved to be a very valuable combination.

The very first assignment I received in my clinic placement was to call some witnesses for an upcoming trial. I was able to interview these witnesses by phone and as I wrote my summaries for the managing attorney I realized how much I had missed. However, as I was able to attend the Lawyering Skills class and learn new techniques during the semester, I had the opportunity to apply those techniques immediately at my clinic. I was able to see what worked and what didn’t work for the clients and me.

The Lawyering Skills class also helped me test new techniques in a safe environment. Sometimes it was hard to take the role plays we did seriously, but they actually helped. When I applied those rehearsed techniques in my clinic, with real people, I found that I was more comfortable and confident in my abilities to obtain important, and admissible, information.  As with all classes you will get out of this class what you put into it. If you want the most out of your clinic experience, I would thoroughly recommend taking the Skills class at the same time. This is especially true if your clinic involves working with clients.

Your Civil Clinic is at the Guardian ad Litem’s Office.  What are you working on now? 

Right now I am doing research on kinship placement internationally. I have been researching the many issues that need to be considered before placing a U.S. citizen minor with a relative that lives in another country.

What has been the biggest “take away” from your clinical experience? 

There have been a lot of great experiences. I think the most memorable was the first case I was put on. I was talking with an attorney and she learned I had a 20 month old boy. She then handed me some pictures of a small boy about the same age. The child looked as though he had been in car accident. I became a little emotional over the images as I read the doctors report on the injuries. This experience and others at my clinic have taught me how to be a better father, husband, friend, and future lawyer. I cannot begin to express how grateful and enlightening the work at my clinic has been. I learned great practical skills and my experience has been very satisfying. My advice would be to not discount a clinic because it may not be what you think you would enjoy. Be willing to try something new, you never know what gems of knowledge and character molding you will find.

Kelsey Forsyth:  The best thing about the Lawyering Skills class is that it gives students an opportunity to learn and immediately apply practical skills students will use every day in their own practice. The class is formatted to allow students to really benefit from the professor’s experiences.  Prof. Pearce’s ‘war stories’ allow me to anticipate how to respond to potential issues I will encounter as a practicing attorney. The Lawyering Skills class helped me to identify and employ good habits and techniques in interviewing and counseling clients. I truly appreciate this opportunity for providing me with practical experiences in client interaction.  Thus far, this class has given me the best idea about what it will really be like to be an attorney.

Your Civil Clinic is at Legal Aid Society.  What are you working on now? 

I have really learned a lot about the format of divorce proceedings. I came in knowing absolutely nothing and I now have a general idea about the flow of a case and the required motions, etc. I have also learned about the format of certain pleadings and filings with the Court. I have learned to complete a Certificate of readiness for trial, a financial declaration and issues list, as well as a modification of a divorce/child custody decree.

Can you give an example of how you’re applying what you learned in class to the clinic?

I have, because of the class, paid more attention to the attorneys’ different styles in counseling their clients and the different approaches to negotiating during mediation. I think the most helpful points in the class lectures are from the analysis of different styles, as learning them allow me to identify them in practice and consider the way I want to carry myself in my own practice.