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Heather O’Connor is a 3L. After a seven year marriage and three kids, Heather went through a divorce that left her questioning what to do with her life. She decided to become an attorney and has never looked back since beginning the long journey. She entered a local community college after...

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The Opportunities of the Criminal Defense Clinic

Posted by Heather O'Connor on 12/02/2010 at 07:00 AM

This semester has been insanely busy, but I have absolutely loved every minute of it and would do it all over again if I could. I would highly recommend to anyone that wants to litigate to take the criminal defense clinic. Working with clients and being in court is so much more fun and real than sitting in a classroom reading case law. It will also help you make the decision whether criminal defense work is for you. I have always said I would never want to do defense work, and even though it's relatively minor crimes we are dealing with, I've had a little bit of a change of heart. =)

As for what I've been doing and the opportunities you may have if you get into the clinic (in random order):

1. I was in with such a great group of students. Everyone went above and beyond, and we got to know a lot about each other that we otherwise wouldn't have had the ability to.

2. You will be in court, on your feet a lot once the cases start coming in. On Tuesday alone, I had three different cases on the court calendar.

3. You may have the opportunity to argue cases that you would likely never have if you went to a different school. I have a case that I argued in Superior Court and was denied, so I am appealing to the Rhode Island Supreme Court and will make that argument as long as the Court allows the appeal to be heard. Where else can you be a third year law school and argue in the highest court in the state???

4. You will learn a lot about real life procedure and court rules. You will quickly learn that just because you read about a certain issue in a case law book, that is not necessarily how it works in real life. Each judge is different and is puts emphasis on different things. The clinic just gives you such a great chance to see what defense work is really like.

5. You will likely get the chance to go to trial. Not every case will go, nor should every case go. You have to make the recommendations that are best for the client, not for you as a student wanting the opportunity to litigate in a meaningful way. However, if there are valid issues, and there often are, you will have the opportunity to conduct a full blown trial. I am looking at the possibility of two trials before the semester is over. (The clinic will likely continue past the last day of classes, but I don't consider this school work so it is really not a burden because it is something I enjoy so much.)

6. You will make a lot of great contacts with the judges, the court clerks, the prosecutors, and other defense attorneys. You are surrounded by professionals at all times and you learn so much by talking to these people and seeing them in action.

7. You will have the opportunity to work on your writing advocacy skills as well. By the time I'm done this semester, I will have worked on one superior court memo and two memos that are being submitted to the Supreme Court. Also, you will be in charge of writing motions, discovery requests, and all other sorts of legal documents. If you've never done anything like that, this is a great opportunity to try it out.

Truthfully, I cannot believe this semester is already over. I still have one final to take and I have to write a paper that is due in six days, but basically, it's over. School goes by so fast, it's amazing. I just filled in my day planner for the classes I am taking next semester and I was able to put GRADUATION in on the May 20th date!

This is exam time though and I know there are a lot of stressed out students, not only at our school, but if you're reading this and you're in undergrad, you're likely getting into the final exam stress time as well. So good luck to everyone on your finals! And if you're lucky enough to not have finals at this time, good luck getting ready for Christmas!