“The only place that I have learned these things is at LSC, and it is the thing that has reeled me back in for another semester”: LSC Students Reflect on the Value of an Advanced Clinical

LSC Students Reflect on the Value of an Advanced Clinical

In November 2023, a little over two months into her advanced clinical semester with the Legal Services Center’s (LSC’s) Consumer Protection Clinic, Annika Reno ’24 strode to the attorney podium in a courtroom at the Federal District Court in downtown Boston. Her job: represent her client, a single mother, in an evidentiary hearing for which much was at stake.

The client’s car had been illegally seized for an old debt, leaving her stranded and turning her world upside down. She no longer had a way to get her daughter to school and to medical appointments. In addition to these enormous impediments in their daily life, she also lost something else—a certain measure of self-worth. She felt shame in walking with her daughter for over a mile just to get her to school and for her neighbors to see that she had no car and was forced to walk everywhere.

Earlier in the year, the Clinic had sued the creditor, its counsel, and the constable who took the car for violating various consumer law statutes. The client settled with the creditor and its counsel but the constable never answered the complaint. After several procedural stages, the Court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on a motion for a default judgment against the constable to be heard in the middle of the fall semester—thankfully, perfect timing for a clinical program. Annika spent weeks preparing for the hearing with her clinical supervisor, Alexa Rosenbloom, and other members of the Consumer Protection Clinic team. After developing her strategy for the hearing, Annika participated in several moots to practice eliciting witness testimony, entering exhibits into evidence, arguing points of law, and responding to likely questions from the bench. She was responsible for everything. No other student attorneys were assigned to the case.

When the big day came, Annika was ready. She skillfully put on her case, including the heart-wrenching testimony of her client. At the conclusion, the Federal District Court judge took the case under advisement, meaning that the judge would not be ruling from the bench. Annika and her client felt good about the case they put on and hoped for the best. But they had no way to know whether the judge would agree with them about the extent of her damages.

Then, just two weeks after the hearing, the decision came down. In an eight-page ruling with detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Court found for Annika’s client, awarding her more than $50,000 in actual damages, including $15,000 in damages for the emotional distress she experienced from the defendant’s unlawful conduct. Annika got to deliver the good news to her client, a uniquely satisfying moment for any lawyer or student attorney. They had built deep bonds of trust over the many weeks of preparation. In that moment, Annika was able to savor her partnership with her client and reflect on all that it took to obtain this measure of justice.

Becoming a Seasoned Attorney

Annika was able to play such a singular role in the Clinic’s representation because, in many ways, Annika was already a seasoned student attorney. Annika is one of a dozen or so students each year who undertake an advanced clinical in one of LSC’s six clinics. In an advanced clinic, students who have completed at least one semester in an LSC clinic return to their clinic for a succeeding semester or semesters. Because advanced clinical students have already completed the classroom requirements for their clinic, when they return, they can devote all their time to the specific lawyering opportunities they want to pursue. What’s more, because the number of credits for an advanced clinical is flexible and can be adjusted after semester’s start, students have freedom to structure their advanced clinic experience in a way that best fits their schedule and learning goals.

Students return for a second, and sometimes even a third of fourth, semester for any number of reasons. For most students, an advanced clinical provides opportunities to deepen their advocacy skills, experiment with different case types, test out different lawyering tools, take on increasingly complex matters, and/or partner further with one or more clinical supervisors whose mentorship they value. For other students, the primary motivation might be to continue working with a particular client with whom they have forged a strong connection or to participate in an upcoming major case event, such as presenting oral arguments in an appeal during the spring semester for a case they had briefed during the fall semester. Still other students might be most interested in working on a case as part of a student team, or, conversely, in working on a case solo. For a subset of students, the chance to join a case team might reflect their interest in serving as a kind of senior student attorney on a case, allowing them to gain experience collaborating with, and mentoring, newer students attorneys. And, of course, for nearly all students, it is not just one factor that leads them to their advanced clinical. Instead, it is a mix of factors that spurs their interest.

“It’s unlikely that I would have been given the evidentiary hearing if I hadn’t been an advanced clinical student,” says Annika. “The case was pretty complex, and I think that Alexa trusted that I could manage the hearing given all the work she and I had done together in my first semester. This was such an exciting experience.”

The advanced clinical has allowed Annika to continue to learn about consumer protection law, work closely with Alexa, “who has been a great mentor,” and strengthen her litigation skills.

“When you start to get a better handle on the law, you can create opportunities for yourself, telling your supervisor what you want to focus on—that is how I ended up working on the hearing.” 

Annika Reno ’24

“Often you don’t know what you don’t know, and it takes the first semester to get that ‘knowing’.” Annika will be back at LSC for a third semester this spring to continue working on a number of cases in process. You can read more about Annika’s experience working on the evidentiary hearing in her blog post.

Annika Reno '24 photo
Annika Reno '24
Tyler Yoo ’24
Tyler Yoo ’24
Sam Holloway ’24
Sam Holloway ’24

Having a Bearing on Someone’s Life

For Tyler Yoo ’24, a second semester in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic as an advanced clinical student has provided him with expansive learning opportunities. “Given the scope of work that this clinic takes on, it is impossible for a student to get exposure to all of the learning opportunities in one semester,” says Tyler. “I did five credits last spring and five credits in the fall, and I don’t think any of the work I did in the fall overlapped with what I did in the spring—and I am constantly learning new material and skills.”

During his initial semester in the clinic, Tyler co-authored an appellate brief with a fellow student for the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veteran Claims. “The brief will always have a special meaning to me,” says Tyler. “It was the first time that I put my name on an official court document that will stay in the system, that will have a bearing on people’s lives. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.” He also represented a veteran in an administrative hearing in an appeal involving access to safety net benefits. You can read more in this recent article about Tyler’s representation of his client at the appeal hearing.

Now, as an advanced clinical student, Tyler is working on entirely different matters before entirely different tribunals. He co-authored a reply brief for a mandamus petition before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, drafted sections of a complaint to be filed in U.S. District Court, and counseled an organizational client about options to pursue impact litigation to challenge discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ+ military families.

Tyler will be back in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic in the spring, for his second advanced clinical semester.

“This clinic has been the highlight of my law school experience,” says Tyler. “I am personally invested in the cases. They mean a lot to me and I care about the clients. I would like to live through the lifecycle of the cases as fully as possible: This is why I am returning.”

Tyler Yoo ’24

Supervisor Guidance and Student Independence Go Hand in Hand

Tyler appreciates the unique balance LSC walks between giving students autonomy and providing them with valuable input and feedback. “On the one hand I have complete ownership of the case, which is why I am invested,” says Tyler. “And, on the other hand, my supervisor and other clinical staff have given me fine-tuned feedback on everything I have done. The feedback is always on point, layered, and nuanced. I have not felt coddled, but instead felt like I got the attention that I needed to help me put my best foot forward in every part of the litigation. The teaching and delegation go hand in hand; it is a delicate balance that has huge impact on the student.”

Learning How to be a Lawyer

Sam Holloway ’24 will be back at LSC in the spring as well, taking an advanced clinical in the Safety Net Project. The project is part of the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic. In the project, Sam will work on a Social Security disability benefit appeal case that is now in federal court. “I represented clients in front of the Social Security Administration last spring, which was cool, getting client testimony on record, but the court is where the rubber hits the road, so I am very excited to be involved in this case.” Sam feels that opportunities to work on cases like this address “a huge gulf in the law school curriculum”: the practical aspects of the learning, or put differently, how to be a lawyer. “Even in my summer position after first year, working on voting rights law, I was not arguing cases at hearings.”

“How do I get medical records? Interview a client? The only place that I have learned these things is at LSC, and it is the thing that has reeled me back in for another semester.”

Sam Holloway ’24

Read more about Sam’s experiences in the clinic in this recent blog post.

Pursuing Your Passions

“Students come to advanced clinicals with a variety experiences in mind,” says Daniel Nagin, faculty director of LSC and faculty director of the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic. “For some students, that means focusing on a particular area of substantive law for which they want to take a deeper dive or branching out to take on cases in an area of law new to them. For others, that means something more skill based, such as a particular lawyering activity—for example, oral advocacy, negotiation, or fact investigation—the student would like to hone further.” Nagin continues, “And, for each case students take on in an advanced clinic, we give them increasing amounts of independence, providing them with bigger and more complex responsibilities. But always doing so, of course, with thoughtful supervision and supports.”

Julie McCormack, director of the Safety Net Project, says LSC really views advanced clinical students as colleagues. “Advanced clinical students are not coming back to ‘just do more work,’” says Julie. “We build on learnings from the prior semester and give them juicier and more complex cases. They are so central to LSC’s mission. Without them, we would have to turn away dozens of clients who desperately need help. We are grateful for all they contribute to our community-based practice.”

Planning an Advanced Clinic

The registration process for advanced clinicals occurs outside the main course registration process and is less formal. For advanced clinicals at LSC, the process is relatively straightforward. Students interested in exploring possibilities for an advanced clinic should simply connect with their clinical supervisor to initiate a conversation. A student could do so during their initial semester in their clinic or after their initial semester in the clinic concludes. In the conversation, the clinical supervisor and student would discuss the student’s potential learning goals for an advanced clinical, the types of cases or lawyering skills in which the student might be interested, the number of credits they may want to take for their advanced clinical, and whether the clinic has the capacity to take on advanced clinic students during the upcoming semester. LSC clinics are extremely welcoming to advanced clinical students and endeavor to find enrollment space whenever possible.

Signing up for an advanced clinic is done via the Office of Clinical and Pro-Bono Programs website. There, students will find a short online application form. The form requires students to provide a brief description—without disclosing any confidential client information—of what they hope to do in their advanced clinic, to enter the number of credits they intend to sign up for, to confirm that they have shared their proposal with their clinical supervisor, and to confirm that their clinical supervisor has agreed to supervise their advanced clinic.

The deadline to submit an advanced clinic application is typically a few weeks before semester start. For example, in Academic Year 2023-24, the deadline for fall semester advanced clinics was August 18, 2023, the deadline for winter term advanced clinics was October 27, 2023, and the deadline for spring semester advanced clinics is January 10, 2024. The deadlines may vary a bit year to year. Please consult the Office of Clinical and Pro-Bono Programs website to confirm the submission deadline relevant to the term of semester you have in mind.

Students are sometimes curious whether their advanced clinical needs to be in the semester that immediately follows their initial semester in their clinic. The answer is no. Gaps in student participation in the clinic are perfectly fine. Thus, students can complete a semester in their clinic and then only do their advanced clinic two or more semesters down the road. Students are also sometimes curious whether they can do multiple advanced clinicals a semester if that is of interest. The answer is very much yes. As for adjusting advanced clinical credits after a semester starts, just as with new clinic students, advanced clinical students should consult the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs website to confirm the in-semester deadline for credit changes.

“I was attracted to consumer protection law as a powerful tool to advance economic justice, and that has been my experience at LSC,” says Annika. “I get the pick of cases because I have been here longer, which is deepening my knowledge every day. The advanced clinical has been an incredible opportunity to build my litigation, courtroom, and advocacy skills.”

If students have questions about advanced clinicals or want to speak with a student who is doing or has done an advanced clinical at LSC, please e-mail us at lsc@law.harvard.edu.

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