Your first year of law school will likely be spent in a dark corner of Langdell Library--drowning in casebooks, outlines and highlighters. You could chose to live your second and third years of law school in the same manner. For about 500 law students, however, hands-on clinical programs are a way to apply what they've learned outside of the classroom.
Clinicals are a hybrid of in-class instruction and real world practice. To take clinicals, students enroll in a standard class (such as administrative law, delivery of legal services, employment law, or family law). The "clinical" is the out-of-the classroom component, in which students perform a legal externship and help real clients resolve their legal problems.
Students represent clients who ordinarily could not afford legal counsel. Many students work in public defenders' and legal service offices. It is a great way to perform community service, and it's not purely extra-curricular--students typically receive one academic credit for every five hours of service.
As a second-year student, I joined the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, one of the Law School's several clinical placements. Other clinical placements are also offered through the School's Office of Clinical Programs.
Students also perform their clinicals at the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, the Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services Center, local District Attorney's offices, Tenant Advocacy Project, and numerous other community advocacy organizations.
As a law student, I practice under the guidance and supervision of a bar-certified attorney. My supervisor has taught me more than the professors I studied with during my first year ever did or could. The kind of one-on-one feedback and instruction that I get from my supervisor is a rarity at law school--especially one as large as Harvard.
Additionally, my clinical work has taught me the realities of the practice of law, like how to apply the book learning that I have acquired in my classes.
After only eight months at the Bureau, I have learned more about the practice of law than three years of classes could have ever taught me. I have already represented over a dozen clients in cases as diverse as estate planning, public housing evictions and disability insurance appeals.
While my fellow law students sit in their classrooms in fear of getting called on, I have walked into courtrooms across the Greater Boston area to file pleadings and argue motions and hearings. And, like my classroom-bound friends, I get academic credit for all of my endeavors.
--Belinda Lee is a 2L at HLS and the vice-president of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.