The Division of Unemployment Assistance’s (“DUA”) Boston office is unnecessarily intimidating. When you walk in, a police officer behind the desk instructs you to provide photo ID, which they check, and then they hand you a guest badge. You’re pushed through a metal detector and your bag goes on a conveyor belt through a scanner. Once you’re cleared, you walk through big glass doors into a waiting room. A few minutes go by, and then someone in a suit walks into the room and says my client’s name. We follow her into a conference room, sit down at a table across from the opposing party, the hearing officer pushes the record button, intones into the microphone the parties’ names, then turns to me. “Would the claimant’s representative please state her name for the record?”
I was at the DUA for an unemployment assistance hearing through BU’s Civil Litigation Clinic. The clinic is run out of Greater Boston Legal Services’s offices in downtown Boston, and each student gets her own caseload, supervised by a clinical BU law professor. Our civil clinic takes housing, employment, family law, and disability cases. This was an unemployment case, hence my presence at DUA. I will spare you the details of the law, but basically, employers do not have to provide unemployment assistance to employees they’ve fired for cause if the employee was fired for knowingly violating a reasonable, uniformly enforced rule or policy or for deliberate misconduct in willful disregard of the employer’s interest. (I know, so many legal buzzwords. If you’re dying to know more, it’s at Mass. Gen Laws ch. 151A § 25e. Knock yourself out.) My client had been approved for unemployment, and his former employer appealed the decision, which brought us to this hearing.
I don’t generally get nervous talking in front of people. Quite the contrary – I enjoy public speaking. This, though, this was different. I had learned all of these things in classes, like how read cases, how to analyze caselaw, how to argue various interpretations of statutes and regulations, how to write a brief, how to cross-examine, how and when to object, etc. But now a real, living, breathing human being was relying me on to not mess this up so that he could pay rent and eat next month. When I was cross-examining my client’s former employer, I had to rely on my own knowledge of the law and the facts, the evidence I for which I had scrounged, my understanding of how to trap people with their own answers, and my own ability to think on my feet. And I loved it.
I came to law school to be a public interest lawyer, hopefully doing civil legal aid with some impact litigation and public policy advocacy thrown in. Happily I’m now a second year law student (a 2L, in the vernacular), so I can actually practice law, having learned some about it during my first year. My hope is that this blog will be all about learning by (supervised) doing. I love that while I have quite a bit to learn, I do know enough about the law such that I can do what I came to law school to do, and (fingers crossed) do it well. I hope you’ll come along me – I can promise it will be, at the very least, an interesting ride.