Five reasons why I recommend participating in Legal Aid Clinic before graduation

As I near the end of my time in law school (shoutout Class of 2022), I have been taking stock of my experiences over the last three years that I know will stick out to me post-graduation. One of the most memorable and beneficial experiences from my time at KU Law will forever remain the Legal Aid Clinic. To convince everyone, I wanted to share the top five reasons I recommend students participate in the clinic. 

Heddy Pierce-Armstrong
Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, 3L Student Ambassador

1. Opportunity to get courtroom jitters out, with supervision

Within my first month in the Legal Aid Clinic, I had the chance to represent clients during status conferences for municipal cases. Though I thought I already knew how to do that from my participation in what seemed like every applicable class, I really didn’t. The night before my first appearance, I remember frantically calling my colleagues in the clinic to see exactly what we were supposed to say. When I felt comfortable, I wrote my “script,” got the script approved by my supervisor and appeared in court with my clients. And it was easy. But I would have never believed that before. As the semester intensified, and I had more responsibilities and expectations, I felt so much more confident because I had overcome the hurdle of actually speaking in court for a client. The opportunity to be supported and guided as I got all my jitters out was immeasurable. 

2. Office collaboration and camaraderie

This goes without saying, but when you stick 10 students in the “bullpen” in clinic for 10 or more hours a week, fast friendships are likely to form. During the clinic, I had the opportunity to build friendships with classmates I had never had the chance to talk to before. I learned so much about those friends. They were always eager to help me, even with issues outside of the clinic’s areas of focus. When I had confusion on a subject in another class, clinic friends who were familiar with the subject helped me. 

Most importantly, the office collaboration was like nothing I had ever experienced during law school. Everyone was willing to share their work, ideas and templates in the clinic. There is true collaboration amongst the interns. This was such a welcoming feeling, as I had never interned somewhere with so many people on my skill level. 

3. Professor Daily, Professor Schnug and Barb

The faculty supervising the Legal Aid Clinic is truly top-notch. Throughout the clinic, I built a one-on-one mentoring relationship with both Professor Daily and Professor Schnug. I left the clinic knowing I had two excellent practitioners in my corner willing to help me in any way they could. What I will remember the most about the professors though, is their pure belief in the work they are doing. So rarely do we get to witness that before we leave law school because so many attorneys just find jobs where they can. This is not the case for Professors Daily and Schnug, who have a gift for guiding the next generation of attorneys. 

Barbara Wrigley, or Barb, feels like the clinic’s office manager. I greatly valued ribbing Barb every morning that I was always the first student at the clinic. Every day Barb would ask me about my family, my weekend or my classes. Going into the clinic truly felt like a second home. Plus, Barb seems to know almost every attorney and judge in town, and she was always helpful in explaining how different divisions handled matters uniquely. So many of the extraordinary aspects of clinic come from the faculty who work in the clinic, and for that, I am thankful I got to learn from lawyers who truly value their jobs.  

4. Partnering courses with actual practice

In typical law school classes, it is easy to lose sight of why we are all here or what will happen after we graduate. Clinic experience gives students the chance to pair what they learn in class with what they will do in practice. So often you hear about people losing motivation during their third year of law school. The Legal Aid Clinic struck the perfect balance to keep me engaged in my purpose in law school. Throughout the semester in the clinic, I was able to use the knowledge I gained the past two years. That was invaluable.

5. The ability to confront inequities in the law, learn to think more critically and strengthen your understanding of diverse experiences

In class, we often tend to shy away from the tough topics of inequities in both the law and the world. This is not the case in the Legal Aid Clinic, where you directly confront how socioeconomic status, race and lived experiences inhibit a person in the legal system. I learned to discern my life experiences and thoughts from those of my clients—what I would do or what would work for me is not the same for clients. Weekly readings aligned with this notion. The professors did not shy away from hard topics. As a person who felt especially passionate about these issues before enrolling in the clinic, I left feeling more equipped to operate in the system that exists to help our clients get the best outcome.

Students in the Legal Aid Clinic review a document with Professor Daily
Students in the Legal Aid Clinic review a document with Professor Daily

I could continue on and on with my praise for the Legal Aid Clinic; however, I will note that what I value from the clinic is not what the next person will value. The autonomy and self-direction have specifically benefitted me in ways I can never fully explain. You can count this as my official endorsement to fit clinic experience into your schedule during law school. As I end, I simply want to say thank you. Thank you to Professors Daily and Schnug, and to Barb. But also—a huge amount of gratitude goes to my peers in the Fall 2021 Legal Aid Clinic.

By Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, a 3L from El Dorado, Kansas and KU Law Student Ambassador