Tips For a Successful Clinical Experience

Immerse yourself in the work of your clinical placement

Ask for work. Solicit ideas. Talk to people about what you are perceiving. Get involved in the interactive aspects of the agency or office in which you work. Ask to go to meetings and to hearings.

Immediately become familiar with office procedure and protocol

Learn and adhere to your placement's work rules that protect its reputation for competence and quality. These rules will address such matters as:

  • how to notify supervisors of your whereabouts (sign-in procedures, important phone numbers to get and provide, etc.);
  • where and how files or other sensitive documents must be maintained;
  • what work activities must be documented for future reference (telephone calls, conversations with opposing counsel, etc.);
  • what approvals you must obtain before proceeding on particular pieces of work or proposed activities; and
  • what activities are prohibited (such as giving legal advice or making significant decisions or communications with parties or opposing counsel without your supervising attorney's knowledge).

Know the formal and informal rules of general operation. Dress in a manner consistent with that of the attorneys working in the office. Never forget that all clerical and support staff are also professionals and should be treated with respect and courtesy.

Set individual goals

In order to begin a process of self-assessment, it is helpful to set individual goals determining what you want to get out of your clinical experience. These goals may concern the development of specific lawyering skills, personal attributes or social skills that impact on professional life, increased knowledge of a substantive area of law or practice, or greater understanding of the legal system. To the extent you are comfortable, share these objectives with your supervising attorney and allow him or her to assist you in reaching your personal goals.

Expect appropriate supervision

Supervision is the key element of clinical education. It transforms the ordinary work situation where learning is haphazard into a meaningful, ordered educational experience.

Expect to have your work reviewed and your performance observed. It is the only way your supervising attorney will be able to provide you with useful feedback. If you are having any problems with either your supervising attorney's availability or the adequacy of supervision, please contact the Director of Clinical Programs as soon as possible. Your concerns will be kept confidential unless and until you direct otherwise.

Make sure all assignments are clarified.

Be certain you understand exactly what is being asked of you. Without knowing what your supervisor wants, you can do too much or too little or go off on a tangent. If you are assigned to research an issue, know whether your supervisor wants a conclusion, a list of cases, or a memorandum of law. Pin down precisely when each assignment is due. ("As soon as possible" is not sufficiently helpful. Respond by suggesting a specific date.) If you are asked to talk with a client, witness, judge, or opposing counsel, make sure you know what topics you are to explore and what to avoid. Even if you have made every effort to clarify the assignment when it was initially made, you may have to go back for further direction as you start to work.

Make the Weekly Reports work for you

The weekly reports are designed to encourage students to think and reflect about their clinical experience, the supervision they are receiving, and their interactions with clients and cases. This is an opportunity to think about the practice of law, your development as a lawyer, and the legal profession as an entity in society.

Communicate

If you are having problems with your clinical placement, let the clinical office know as soon as you are aware of them. We are always available to sit down and help you devise solutions. Once again, you are welcome to stop in or call us to make an appointment. Also, if you have thoughts as to how the clinical program could be strengthened or changed, we would be delighted to explore them.