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Feature

Reception area of the Law School clinics office.

The remodeled reception area of the Law School clinics office in Mondale Hall on the Twin Cities campus.

The U's teaching law firm

By Meleah Maynard

From eNews, October 28, 2004

In May, Jaime Driggs graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School with family law his chosen specialty. He knew it was the right career path because, in the last two years, he'd spent four semesters taking law clinics in several areas of practice. While some of his peers decided against family law because it can be emotionally draining, Driggs discovered a deep interest in dealing with the issues that come up in family court.

"The more highly charged emotional nature of family law is a reason to do it," says Driggs. "It's meaningful. You know why you're getting up in the morning."

Established in 1913, the University's law clinics began as a partnership between the Law School and the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis. Though much has changed over the years, the original aim of the program remains the same as its founder, then-Law School dean William Reynolds Vance, had intended. Long before most law schools were offering any kind of clinical education, Vance realized the importance of going beyond traditional classroom learning to give law students the opportunity to work with live clients experiencing real legal problems.

Today, the Law School offers one of the largest, nationally recognized clinical education programs in the country. Second- and third-year students can choose from 16 live-client clinics, ranging from federal taxation and civil litigation to immigration and domestic felony prosecution. Cases or clients are referred to the clinics through different channels, though many come from the Volunteer Lawyers Network, the largest pro bono legal service provider in Hennepin County. Under the Student Practice Rule, adopted by the Minnesota Supreme Court, student attorneys--supervised by clinic faculty--represent the clients in court and administrative agency proceedings.

While clinical education is available nationwide to less than 30 percent of law students, more than 60 percent of University law graduates take clinical classes--enrolling in several throughout their time at the U. (Driggs chose the domestic violence, public interest law, and legal aid to Minnesota prisoners clinics.)

Each year, the U's law clinics take on approximately 700 new cases with student attorneys providing around 18,000 hours of free legal services, often to low income people and those who do not have access to other kinds of legal assistance.

"Clinic students aren't just learning how to do things," says Carl Warren, who teaches the civil practice clinic. "They're learning how to be. They are looking at moral and ethical issues. They're learning how to deal with angry attorneys and untruthful clients in a productive way. They are figuring out what it means to be a person and a lawyer of integrity. There's no way to learn those things in the classroom."

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