Legal Services Organization in Action
I have to admit that it was a little intimidating to lead a client meeting after officially being a law student for no more than a few months. Although I had the support of the supervising attorneys on the clinical faculty, I was essentially setting the pace in that meeting during the very first days of my second semester of law school. I was a student in the Law School’s Community and Economic Development Clinic, a practice that provided legal assistance to small businesses and non-profits in the greater New Haven community. My client, who was interested in starting an employment service catering to minority communities in New Haven, contacted the clinic because she wanted legal advice about the best way to go forward with setting up her business. Together with other students in the clinic and the supervising attorneys, I discussed the potential advantages and drawbacks of various approaches and ultimately helped her form a limited liability company. We worked with her to anticipate some of the legal issues she might face once she began operating her business and devised strategies to help minimize her potential legal risk. As the lead student on the project, I had an immense amount of responsibility for coming up with various options, researching their legal implications, and drafting documents to bring the solutions to fruition. Later in the semester, I helped a community arts non-profit obtain tax-exempt status so that it would have an easier time raising donations from the public; I also helped a local entrepreneur start a virtual homeowners association.
For a change of pace, the next semester I got involved with the Law School’s Landlord/Tenant clinic, representing indigent tenants in eviction proceedings in New Haven. Although focused more on litigation than transactional work, the Landlord/Tenant clinic has been an amazing opportunity to assume great responsibility for managing real legal work while still an impressionable law student. As a student in the clinic, I am expected to take the lead in strategizing, researching various legal questions relating to the case, and drafting (and re-drafting) case filings. Although I have yet to have the opportunity, many of the students in the clinic have had the chance to argue their cases before the Housing Session in Superior Court. Last week, one of my classmates won a victory in a case that the clinic had been handling for nearly a year; a celebratory ice cream party marked the occasion.
Aside from the practical legal experience and training, one of the best parts of being involved in the clinic is being able to connect with the larger New Haven community. As part of the Community and Economic Development clinic, I attended a business fair operated by the local Chamber of Commerce to give a short presentation on the benefits (and pitfalls) for entrepreneurs in forming limited liability companies. Through involvement in the Landlord/Tenant clinic, I have been able to get just a small glimpse into the larger challenges facing urban planners when thinking about issues of affordable housing. It’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the ivory tower, feeling somewhat distant from the larger community around you; being involved in the clinics has helped make the law school experience more real.