It was a Sunday afternoon. I was standing on a relatively deserted street corner somewhere in eastern Mississippi with a fellow NYU Law student. We had been wandering around on foot when we were stopped by a cop, who I was talking to through his rolled-down window, explaining to him that yes, everything was fine, and no, we were not in need of assistance.
It might sound like something untoward had been going on. After all, how do two girls who currently live in Manhattan end up in rural Mississippi talking to the police? The answer, I am happy to report, has nothing to do with anything dangerous or illegal. Rather, my classmate and I are both part of an NYU Law clinic, and we were doing fieldwork in Mississippi when the aforementioned cop stopped to ask us if everything was all right. Apparently, no one could possibly mistake us for locals.
My classmate and I were on our first trip as part of the Equal Justice and Defender Clinic. This first trip down South was a whirlwind. Over the course of five days, 15 of my intrepid peers and I drove all over the state of Alabama (and some of Mississippi), met seven clients, wrote a total of 24 memos, and bonded over broken-down cars, proper barbecue, and beer at what I can only assume is Montgomery’s only Irish pub. We’ll soon be going back for more: for much of the fall semester, the 16 of us will essentially be spending one week in the South followed by two weeks in New York, splitting time between locations to be able to properly represent our clients while remaining full-time NYU Law students.
Being part of a clinic is one of the most time-intensive, laborious, and crazy things I have done. It is also by far one of the most awesome. I get to earn class credits while working on a real-life case and making a real-life difference for a client. It is also forcing me to forge stronger relationships with my peers. There’s nothing that helps people bond quite like 12 hours spent together on Alabama freeways. There’s also very little more amusing than watching a New Yorker try to blend in with Southern locals. (The poor waitress at the aforementioned Irish pub had absolutely no idea what to do with a large group of mostly 20-somethings talking loudly, quickly, and freely about online dating.)
It’s not just the 16 of us who get to participate in the clinical learning experience. NYU is overflowing with clinics of all sorts. Whether you (like me) are interested in Eighth Amendment law and racial justice, or you’re more into immigration law, international human rights, corporate and bankruptcy law, prosecution, civil litigation, regulatory policy, or something else entirely, NYU Law has a clinic for you. Not only are clinics great for bonding and ridiculous stories, but they’re a fantastic way to gain those real-life lawyer skills that law school supposedly doesn’t teach its students. With NYU’s rich clinical offerings, any student who’s interested in gaining those skills while in school has an opportunity to do so.
Not all clinics are as intensive as the one I’m in. Almost all clinics are based in New York; some of them actually work with centers at NYU, like the Brennan Center for Justice. But regardless of the type or focus of the clinic a student takes, after the semester or year spent in the clinic, students all emerge with valuable legal training and an understanding of the actual state of affairs “on the ground” in their practice area. I, for one, can already tell that my clinic is making me a better law student and future lawyer, and I’m excited to see what more I learn between now and winter break.