Second-year law student Maureen Orth aspires to be a litigator, and just halfway through law school, she’s well on her way.
“While you learn a lot in your first year, there’s a lot that you don’t understand until you’ve actually seen it,” Orth said. “Getting to be in the courtroom and getting to see different proceedings has really helped flesh out my academic coursework and understand how it all fits together.”
Through KU Law’s Judicial Clinic, Orth works with Chief Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, a 14-year veteran of the bench with private practice experience. Her duties include observing proceedings, writing orders, reading motions and getting feedback from the judge and his clerks.
“You have unique access to judges at the state and federal level, and equally exciting, you have access to his or her clerks,” Orth said. “I’m getting feedback on my writing from those same people who are researching and writing for the judge. That is an invaluable experience to get in law school.”
The clinic serves as a sort of living laboratory, with Orth learning case law in class one day, then witnessing how those legal concepts play out in the courtroom the next. She recalls taking Criminal Procedure as she was observing criminal proceedings in the courtroom, seeing how search warrants were used and how special agents and U.S. attorneys presented testimony. This semester Orth is taking Evidence and witnessing firsthand how parties enter evidence at motion hearings.
“I can see the benefits of being prepared versus using boilerplate objections,” Orth said. “I can see how what I’m learning will be applicable in the future.”
Beyond the technical aspects, Orth has been welcomed into the Kansas City legal community, learning each judge’s stylistic conventions and building a valuable professional network.
“As someone who does not have anyone in their family who practices law, a lot of the proceedings were unfamiliar,” Orth said. “I’m hoping to practice in the Kansas City area, so familiarity with how the courthouse works is helpful.”
Her courthouse colleagues have offered Orth everything from research and writing tips, to input on career opportunities and advice on which classes to take. The Judicial Clinic also offers a welcome departure from time the classroom, providing a glimpse of life after law school. “Sometimes in law school it can feel like you’re on pause because a lot of people our age are working already,” Orth said. “To get up and go to work feels all the more closer to being a working professional. You’re working on court orders and doing research that affects someone’s actual case, as opposed to the hypotheticals in class. It puts things in perspective.”
Ultimately, the clinic offers students the hands-on experience employers are seeking in addition to an understanding of theory and case law. “There are few things more valuable that KU offers than the clinic experience,” Orth said. “Law is so interesting from a theoretical standpoint, but until you actually see how it plays out in court, you don’t understand how it all comes together.”
— Maureen Orth is a second-year law student from Prairie Village, Kan.