Beyond the Law School: Clinics Benefit Students & Community
This is the second of a two-part series examining how students benefit the community and themselves through the five clinics of the UF Levin College of Law’s Virgil Hawkins Civil Clinics — Full-Representation and Pro Se (see the March 24, 2003, FlaLaw) and Mediation, Criminal and Juvenile (Gator TeamChild), where students are certified by the Florida Supreme Court to practice under supervision of a licensed attorney. Mediation Clinic County Court Small Claims Mediation Clinic is taught by Clinics Director/Professor Don Peters (now on sabbatical) and Legal Skills Professor Alison Gerencser. It gives students experience in acting as neutral third-parties to help adversaries resolve conflicts. “There is a growing trend toward mediation, whether in contracts, probate or civil litigation, and only about two percent of civil cases go to trial,” said Gerencser. “Some courts, such as the Eighth Circuit, require mediation before trial.” In addition to providing invaluable practical experience, Mediation Clinic fulfills the Florida Supreme Court’s requirements for “Certified County Court Mediator.” Sections are offered spring and fall. There are no pre-requisites, though Negotiation is highly recommended. Gerencser’s section also offers the opportunity to participate in the Conflict Resolution Program (CRP), which helps troubled children learn to peacefully settle conflicts. CRP is supervised by Norma Greene, an education specialist and certified county mediator who has been involved in juvenile issues for years, including PACE Center for Girls, Alachua Regional Marine Institute and Pleasant Place. “CRP is important for young people we interact with,” said Greene. “And law students learn a lot from seeing what at-risk children go through.” Criminal Clinic Students in Criminal Clinic can work for the public defender under Professor Michelle Jacobs or state attorney under Adjunct Professor William Davis. There is a classroom component fall and spring, and students work 20 hours per week. During summer, students work 30 hours per week, with no classroom component, and may work in other Florida cities. (See the College of Law Student Handbook for prerequisites. Gator TeamChild (Juvenile Law Clinic) Because children rarely can advocate for themselves, their rights often are ignored. Under direction of Legal Skills Professor Claudia Wright, Gator TeamChild (GTC) provides free legal services to roughly 100 indigent children at any given time. The clinic also provides valuable experience to third-year law students, including fundamental advocacy skills such as interviewing, counseling, negotiating, and navigating bureaucracies, agencies and court systems. “GTC offers a unique opportunity for students to represent clients in a variety of forums,” Wright said. “In different counties, before different judges, before different agencies.” The clinic’s core principle is that adults can work together to create environments where children can succeed. Law students work in teams with graduate-level, social-work students to assess clients’ needs, and collaborate with other professionals in the community to provide services for the children. GTC is a two-semester program and is open to third-year law students.