Clinical Trials

One fact about myself that I don’t exactly advertise is that I’m afraid of public speaking. I’m pretty sure it’s not a phobia, since I’ve done it for years without fleeing stages or the front of rooms. But that fear is one reason why I’ve tried my hand at the Marden Competition for the past two years. My career goal is to be a public defender, which, as you might have guessed, requires public speaking—arguably, a lot of it.

The work you do in a clinic helps prepare you for arguing here. (Photo from Flickr Creative Commons)

NYU has an excellent clinical program, which was part of why I applied here in the first place. The program has something for everyone, whether you want to be a transactional attorney, an international human rights lawyer, or a prosecutor. In my case, since I want to be a PD, I’m in one of the defense clinics. Students generally take a clinic to learn more about a particular area of law and to get practical experience in that area. We write briefs, argue cases, and generally act like real lawyers instead of students. More pragmatically, some people take clinics as a way to load up on credits.

While it’s a lot of work for my third year, I’m glad to be taking my clinic. There’s a seminar component and a clinical component. The seminar involved a lot of initial reading in order to bring us up to speed on trial skills and has also entailed a lot of trial preparation exercises, which have required me to speak up—a lot.

The clinics are housed in Furman Hall. My clinic office has a nice view of the Empire State Building. Prior to taking the clinic, I’d done one mock opening and one mock closing, but no direct examination or cross-examination work. My only conception of cross-examination came from Law & Order and A Few Good Men. Needless to say, trial work—from what I’d seen—was often less exciting in that regard, and the clinic has confirmed for me that good trial work doesn’t have to be flashy. That’s not my style of speaking (perhaps sadly?), but I’ve grown as a public speaker in the six months I’ve been a part of the clinic. I’m calmer speaking in front of people than ever before.

But even apart from my fear of public speaking, the clinic has been valuable in helping me become a better writer. Two unfortunate facts about moot court are that no one reviews your brief, and the only feedback you receive is from people who are, frankly, strangers. In contrast, my professors know me pretty well by now, so they give me specific advice on how to improve my written work. I’m also assigned to two trial lawyers in a defense office, which has similarly been an interesting part of the experience. Seeing the different methods of preparation and the different ways to approach plea bargaining and trial goes a long way.

Whether or not you share my proclivities against public speaking, I’d recommend taking a clinic in your time at NYU Law. You make friends, you grow as an attorney, and, hopefully, you help clients out. If you want to be a litigator of any sort, a clinical experience (in addition to whatever internships you do) can really help you out!