After doing forty hours a week of legal work over the summer, going back to a schedule of one hundred percent academic theoretical coursework wasn’t entirely appealing to me. Don’t get me wrong, bar subject classes are certainly useful and seminars offer the opportunity for in-depth explorations of topics across the spectrum of the law, but I wanted to work on something real. Research on topics that was actually necessary rather than just a chance to hone my WestLaw and LexisNexis skills, writing briefs that were actually going to be filed rather than graded. The Employment Rights Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services turned out to be the perfect fit for me.
I worked on three types of cases: employment discrimination (both state law violations and classic federal Title VII), wage and hour disputes (when employees aren’t paid appropriate minimum wage or overtime, or sometimes aren’t paid at all), and unemployment benefits cases (where former employees were denied benefits from the Department of Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”). And, as a certified Student Attorney, I wasn’t just assisting on cases like I had at the Office of the Attorney General over the summer: these cases were all mine.
I’ve described being a 3:03 Student Attorney as something like practicing law with training wheels. In the litigation clinics (of which BUSL has several to choose from) you manage your own caseload from communicating with clients and opposing counsel, to developing your own theory of a case and doing the corresponding legal research, to appearing in court and at administrative hearings. But all the while with a supervising professor at your side for support and consultation, and a while taking the accompanying three credit Pre-Trial Advocacy course to develop skills like client interviewing and counseling, negotiation, and case evaluation.
It was sometimes daunting to deal with drafting letters and booking translators (many of our clients are Spanish speaking-only and my high school language education left much to be desired, so coordinating interpreters for interviews and having documents translated was a must) while still juggling regular classes, SGA, and my part-time job but, at the risk of sounding too Pollyanna, the satisfaction of assisting people who wouldn’t have had access to legal counsel otherwise more than made up for it, and I learned a tremendous amount more in the hands-on setting.
Sometimes there isn’t a ton we’re able to actually accomplish: discrimination cases can drag on for months and so are sometimes passed along from clinic students one semester to another, and wage and hour disputes with undocumented workers sometime suffer the opposite problem of most litigation in that there just aren’t enough documents and without paystubs or any verification that the work actually occurred the cases can be difficult to move on. I did have a very positive experience with one unemployment case in particular, where I represented a client in a DUA hearing and successfully secured unemployment benefits for her.
In the past the ERC program hasn’t accepted first semester 2Ls, I was lucky enough to be the first. I was at a slight disadvantage in some ways, (such as that I took Evidence simultaneously rather than having already had it like the 3Ls in the clinic, but since the rules of evidence don’t apply in administrative hearings it ended up not being too big a problem), but it was a tremendous opportunity that I’m very glad I had the chance to be do!