Beyond the Law School: Clinics Benefit Students & Community

Published: March 24th, 2003

Category: News

The five clinics of the UF Levin College of Law’s Virgil Hawkins Civil Clinic — Full- Representation, Criminal, Pro Se, Mediation and Gator TeamChild — reach into the community to give legal assistance to those in need. They also present excellent opportunities for students to gain real-world experience while still in school. This two-part series examines how students benefit the community and themselves through these programs. (Next week in Part Two: Criminal, Mediation and Gator TeamChild.) ‘Full-Rep’ Teaches Variety Of Legal Skills The Full Represention (Full-Rep) clinic serves dozens of clients each semester, generally in family law cases dealing with issues such as divorce, paternity, custody, visitation, child and spousal support, distribution of assets and debts. “To learn by doing, you must actually process what you do, and fully digest the experience,” said Legal Skills Professor Jeff Grater, who oversees clinic students as they represent clients from initial interviews through non-jury trials. The clinic (nine semester-hours, six in summer) is composed of classroom work, which teaches basic legal skills, and case representation. Students must have earned at least 48 semester hours before beginning, and courses in family law, trial practice and other legal skills are highly recommended. Actual work varies according to cases assigned. Students may represent clients in interviews, legal counseling, negotiations, mediations, hearings and trials, and often draft pleadings, motions and other legal documents. Students work in pairs, with each student being first chair counsel on several cases at a time. Grater said practical experience is crucial for graduates entering the profession. “All law students should have the opportunity to participate in a clinical experience,” Grater said. “Offering clinics in as many substantive areas as possible would make that opportunity even more beneficial.” Current participants and third-year law students Gayla Carpenter and David Rhodes praise the hands-on aspect of clinic work. “After two-and-a-half years of theory, I’m getting real experience,” said Carpenter. Rhodes added, “It’s a great working environment. And great opportunity to learn just how much you don’t know.” Pro Se Helps Those Who Help Themselves Legal Skills Professors Iris Burke and Peggy Schrieber direct students in the Pro Se Clinic as they help litigants who have chosen to represent themselves in family law cases. “The Florida Supreme Court has developed an extensive body of forms and instructions for family law pro se litigants, which can be obtained at most courthouses or downloaded from the Web,” said Burke. “However, litigants often need help beyond simply obtaining forms. Our clinic students do an excellent job of providing legal advice, which clerks of the court are not permitted to give.” Students learn interviewing, counseling and basic Florida family law first semester in the two-part program. The three-credit “prep” class involves role playing, where students act as clients or do interviewing and counseling exercises. Students earn six credits second semester by working with clients and attending class four hours per week.

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