The Student Experience
In most cases, students are involved in their cases from the initial arraignment. They arrive at court well before the scheduled arraignment to facilitate rapport building and to schedule a formal client interview. Each of the students is responsible for multiple clients a semester.
At the arraignment, the students also explain how the clinic works, and have the families sign consent forms for records, and for representation through the clinic. Afterward, the students work on obtaining the appropriate records and investigating their cases. At the first meeting after the arraignment, the students speak with clients about the alleged offense and ascertain the necessary information about witnesses. The students then begin their discovery process to make sure they find out everything they can about the case. They begin contacting the officer involved and any other possible witnesses, going to the scene of the crime when necessary, and gathering potential evidence, such as videotaped recordings of the incident. They then reach out to the prosecutor to make sure they have any statements our client may have made and any exculpatory evidence. This is often a good opportunity to start providing a narrative about the client to the prosecutor. We want to start giving the prosecutor a reason to consider leniency for our clients. All along, the students are pursuing information about our clients from a variety of professionals, often including teachers, social workers, case managers, in-home counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, police officers, and school administrators. The students develop case plans, strategize and prepare motions, research legal issues, meet with their clients, and work on file and time management.
Throughout the process, we discuss their cases in case rounds with the rest of the class and in weekly team supervision meetings. Together we discuss strategy and develop a plan for informing our clients about their options. We discuss negotiation techniques, and again, we complete our preparation with a simulation in class of their upcoming motions arguments, trials or sentencing hearings.
In Court, the students engage in a variety of presentations, ranging from making an initial appearance to accept appointment, arguing motions, trying cases, presenting sentencing arguments, and handling appeals.
Through their representation of our indigent clients, students are exposed to the extreme difficulties many families face. They have homeless clients, clients who have lost one or both parents, clients in foster care, clients who have a parent in prison, clients who have one or more drug-addicted parents, clients who are mentally ill, clients with disabilities of other kinds, and clients who live in extraordinarily challenging environments.