Remember the scene in the film Legally Blonde where Elle says to the judge that a law student can represent a client when under the supervision of a licensed attorney?
Well, under the Michigan Court Rule 8. 120(A), “Law students and recent law graduates, under supervision by a member of the state bar, may staff public and non-profit defender offices, and legal aid clinics that are organized under a city or county bar association or an accredited law school.” There are some other criteria that must be met for a student to represent a client in proceedings, but, luckily, since 2017, I have met that criteria.
As a dual JD student, it is a requirement to partake in a clinical program at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. In the fall 2017 semester, I did a clinic and loved it so much that I am doing another clinic this semester. Working with the clinic has been my best experience in law school.
While starting back at the clinic this semester, I was assigned a specific case for the first time in my two years of working there (as a student or translator, I have done both over the past two years). This particular case was going to proceedings in February, which left me with much work to be done. While I cannot say much about the details of the case, I can explain that it was an asylum case for more than one person, and if the people were returned to their country of nationality, their situation would have been dire. This alone gave me the drive it took to complete the long hours of preparation for the proceedings. As I prepared, I felt a sense of urgency and excitement while gathering everything necessary, practising eliciting testimony from witnesses, hours of rehearsal with my clients and prepare myself to be the best representation that I could be for these clients.
As the date of the proceedings approached, I felt the hours passing while I prepared further. My professor has a great deal of faith in my abilities and I have a great deal of faith in trusting him to teach me what I need to know. Thanks to this mutual trust and respect, we were able to work together flawlessly.
Finally, the day of the proceedings arrived. I woke up at 5 a.m. to revise my questions for examination and documents one more time. I remember standing in the bathroom mirror while getting ready that day, mouthing the questions to myself in the mirror like a 1L preparing for their first moot court. I left my house at 7:30 a.m. when a friend picked me up to drive across the border. The court was just a 15-minute drive away (in Detroit) from my house (in Windsor, Ont.). We drove across the border and arrived in plenty of time to get into the courthouse. I stood in a large security line in front of the federal building where the immigration proceedings take place. After spending 15 minutes chatting in line with some attorneys, my professor showed up and we discussed strategy a little longer, made it past security and eventually made it upstairs to the courtroom. I noticed some classmates had come to the courtroom to watch the proceedings and to support me.
Upon our arrival in the courtroom, the proceedings started immediately. My professor fist bumped me and told me the floor was mine. I was surprised to find that the judge started the day off with asking administrative questions and made sure there was nothing new for us to add to the file. As a student representative, I had to answer questions about my eligibility to represent the client. Once the administrative tasks were over, there was some more legalese thrown around and the judge asked if I was ready to call my first witness.
The total proceedings went on for quite some time. I remember having my clipboard in hand as I calmly asked questions to my witnesses and listened while the other side cross-examined them. I remember feeling at ease in a courtroom while eliciting responses from the clients and I remember my professor being supportive and only sliding me notes on his yellow legal pad when necessary (three times during the whole proceedings). Some surprises came up during the proceedings but nothing that we or our clients couldn’t handle.
Eventually, when the questions from both sides came to an end, the judge decided it was time to render a decision. I waited anxiously as the judge explained that our case had been successful. Upon hearing the judge’s decision, my clients started crying and I felt myself fill with pride and my eyes shine with joy. The judge then proceeded to go off the record, meet the students and give me feedback on my performance.
While I recognize that I have helped people reach the safety they need, my emotional response came from more than just winning this claim. For me, this case was very much proof of my hard work, dedication and ability to work vigilantly as an attorney-to-be. I will forever remember these clients and the feeling that I had when the judge rendered a positive decision and commended me on my work.
I am sharing this story for a few reasons. First, it is one that I am very proud of. Second, doing a clinic in law school has proven to be very beneficial for my legal growth and development. Third, this story illustrates how law can be used to help those who need it most. So, if this experience sounds like something you would like to try, check out clinics in your area and see what you can do to help.