By: Tara Louise Casey, LL.M. ’19
As an LL.M. student who has recently finished my primary law degree in Ireland – where there is not a great amount of emphasis on practical legal education – I was eager to explore clinical and pro-bono opportunities at Harvard. I had previously studied domestic violence from an academic perspective and completed an internship at a prominent family law firm in Dublin so a clinical program that combined the two sounded like a perfect fit.
While I had previously participated in a clinical program at the University of Texas while studying abroad there during my primary law degree, working at the Legal Services Center (LSC) was unlike anything I had done before. From the very beginning, my supervisor Nnena Odim made it clear that the cases I would be working on would be my own, that I would be responsible for the vast majority of the case – keeping the client up to date, getting information from them, communicating and negotiating with opposing counsel and representing the client in court. Being thrown into the deep-end was at first rather intimidating, but the community spirit at LSC was a great help. Surrounded by other law students – some in the Domestic Violence/Family Law Clinic, some in other clinics, some returning students, some first-timers like me – I quickly got to grips with drafting documents in the correct form, who to call at the court house for certain information and appropriate tones to take with opposing counsel, parties and my own clients on the phone.
My favorite aspect of the clinic was without doubt meeting with the clients. Before our meetings, I would generally read up on their case and try to ascertain where they were at procedurally, what was the most recent thing they had asked for and what further information we needed to get from them for our next filings with the court. I often thought about my academic study of domestic violence, trying to remind myself to keep in mind its multi-faceted nature. When I met with the clients, however, oftentimes all of my forethought would go out the window. There would be a new issue we had never heard about before – she had received a document from the court that did not make sense, the visitation arrangement for her child was drastically different from that ordered by the court or she had a separate legal issue that could be dealt with by other clinics at LSC. These were classic “they don’t teach you this at law school” moments and I relished them. The skills that would come out of these interactions, I have come to learn, are some of the most fundamental that any lawyer can have – adaptability, understanding and basic people skills.
While it was fantastic to have the opportunity as a law student to speak to a judge as an authorized student attorney and argue on behalf of my client against seasoned opposing counsel, it was the meetings with clients where we could chat about what was going on in their lives now, what they wanted and what it was that I could do to help them achieve their goals that stand out as the highlights of my clinical experience at Harvard.