Clinic work: My training wheels

After waffling for two and a half years about whether or not I actually want to be a practicing attorney, this semester I bit the bullet and decided to sign up for our law school’s Civil Clinic. Not only did I see this as a great way to fill almost half of my course load, but I figured that if I was ever going to use this education, it might be good to get a set of “training wheels” before I got onto the big bike after graduation.

I’ve only been a clinic student for about three weeks, but I’m already finding out a lot about the practice of law. First, “real” attorneys don’t go easy on you just because you’re young. In fact, I’m currently working on a case where the opposing attorney is a former professor of mine. He knows more about pre-trial litigation than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m feeling pretty defeated and we’ve hardly gotten started.

Secondly, take bankruptcy. I’m currently in the process of filing one, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m dong. I am literally reading a book called “Bankruptcy Basics,” and it’s not simple enough for me to understand. Whether or not you think you will ever need it, I think basic knowledge of Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a good tool to have.

Third, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Just yesterday, an attorney tried to get me to stipulate to an order over the phone.  I still don’t really get what he was trying to ask me. Actually, I don’t believe he even knew who his client was.  But, in the end, I told him that I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and I was going to have to discuss the case more with my supervisor. Did I sound like an idiot? Absolutely. But I’d rather sound like an idiot than put my client and myself in hot water.

I think every law student who has access to an opportunity like this is dumb not to take advantage of it. It’s reassuring to know that after I graduate I will know a little bit about what I’m supposed to be doing.

By Jennifer Pohlman, third year student at the University of Nebraska College of Law and student editor for The National Jurist