My Clinic Story

By Michael Williford, Fall 2016 Student Intern

As a second semester IAC intern, I returned to the Investor Advocacy Clinic with a better sense of the processes associated not only with FINA arbitration, but with managing clients and their expectations. As a result, I felt more comfortable about when and how to engage with clients, the potential pitfalls that can lurk in any case, and a generally better understanding of the nuances of how the law interacts with the real world.

Broadly speaking, practice is much different than any law school class. Of course, the statutory and case law research I was accustomed to is a part of any FINRA action, but the experience fundamentally changes when you are engaged in the process on behalf of a client who is counting on you, rather than simply executing on an exam for a grade. That new context is both rewarding and frightening, but it is one I would encourage all law students to experience during their time in law school.

So, what did we actually accomplish this semester? We have drafted several comment letters discussing the clinic’s views on proposed FINR rule changes. We have received responses from FINRA that will forever be a part of the public record. We saw the final resolution to a case I was fortunate enough to work on last semester. The outcome was positive and the client was grateful. That alone feels like a significant accomplishment—Clinic students engaged with a large corporation and the client walked away with money that was not otherwise recoverable.

My biggest accomplishment, however, is having taken a case from intake through to what will likely be the initialization of an arbitration action on the client’s behalf. Getting to know the client along the way and coming to understand his perspective gave me new insights into how investors understand their own retirement planning, how much they depend on brokers and investment advisers, and how they suffer when that trust is broken. It provides a motivation to produce good work that is altogether different than the desire for good grades or to land a particular job after graduation that are the normal hallmarks of the law school experience. And even though I won’t be around for the resolution of his case, I’m grateful to have met the client and I believe he will be in good hands next semester when his case really gets underway. I’m excited for the students who will be guiding him through the FINRA process.

My Clinic Story

By Mary Ann Hanke, Fall 2016 Student Intern

For the first three years of law school, I worked full-time at a software consulting company and went to law school part-time in the evenings. Legal experience therefore, was hard to come by. I was involved in extra-curricular activities that helped give me some academic and practical experience, but I had not worked in the field at all. When I made the switch to full-time student for the last year, I had to strategically choose and schedule my semesters to maximize the quality of my experience. I needed to gain the most value I could, in the shortest possible time.

When I first heard about the clinic, I had sort of dismissed it. Securities arbitration was not something I thought I was interested in, and I didn’t think I would have the time to fit it into my schedule. After talking to a few students who had signed up for the corresponding class, and had actually taken the clinic, I began to change my mind. The experience seemed to revolve not just around securities laws or arbitration, but on developing your lawyering identity as well.

In fact, participating in the clinic ended up being one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in law school to date. The casework, responsibilities, and exposure to all aspects of client management have prepared me more for being a lawyer than any class has. We wrote pleadings, handled client phone calls, managed our individual caseload, and learned just as much about ourselves as we did about securities arbitration under FINRA. We participated in joint investigations with State agencies, and conceptualized and designed a long-term collaboration with the Georgia Secretary of State dedicated to investor education. As I look back on the semester, I am amazed at how much we accomplished and how much I learned about myself in such a short period of time. Most of all, I am proud of the work of we did and the positive impact it has had on people’s lives.

My Clinic Story

By Hector Rojas, Fall 2016 Student Intern

While participating in the Investor Advocacy Clinic, student interns are allowed to practice law under Georgia’s student practice rule.  Essentially, interns are allowed to do everything a licensed Georgia attorney is permitted to do as long as they are under the supervision of a licensed attorney.  That means interns are allowed to draft letters to clients and opposing clients, interview current and prospective clients, draft statements of claims (the functional equivalent of a complaint), and much more.

During this semester in the Clinic, I was able to do all of the above-mentioned tasks.  I was able to communicate case progress with current clients, perform intake calls with prospective clients, drafts various letters to clients and opposing parties, and even had the opportunity to assist with the drafting of a complaint to be filed through FINRA Dispute Resolution.

Some of my best experiences in the Clinic involved working with clients.  I enjoyed getting to meet the clients/prospective clients, hearing their story and their expressed gratitude when we mentioned that we would do our best to represent them.  I also enjoyed working in a law firm setting with a partner, who happens to be your professor.  This allowed me to see what it is like to work in a law firm with a partner before graduation, an experience I had not yet had.

Joining the Investor Advocacy Clinic was one of the best decisions I’ve made throughout my law school career.  Because the Clinic functions as a small law firm, my experience in the Clinic has truly been a unique one.  This setting has allowed me to learn practical lawyering skills that I will be able to use upon graduation, which was the very reason why I joined the Clinic. I have enjoyed working with real clients and getting out of the traditional law school class setting.  My time in the Clinic is not over yet, however, as I am excited to rejoin the Clinic for one final semester in the spring.  See you then.

Investor Advocacy Clinic Closed for Winter Break

The Georgia State University College of Law observes winter break from December 16, 2016 until January 5, 2017.  While we will continue to post to this blog, pursuant to University guidelines, our physical office will be closed and we will be unable to respond to inquiries during the break.  Please be aware that the passage of time can impact a potential claim.  If you have a legal concern while we are closed for the break, we urge you to contact another attorney.

My Clinic Story

By Geoff Hafer, Fall 2016 Student Intern

Clinic this semester was really an incredible learning experience.  Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the semester for me was getting to work individually with a new client.  From the initial intake call, to document research, communications with general counsel from the opposing side, etc., I was able to handle it all.  In my opinion, that’s what makes the Clinic experience so special.  Not only are you handling real clients with real problems, but you are shaping who you are and who you will become in the legal profession.  It is important to have the right tools at your disposal, i.e. core legal curriculum, but until you start putting those tools to work it’s difficult to understand their significance.  The clinic allows you to do that under the supervision of a mentor.

In addition to my individual work experience, I was able to work on several exciting projects within our team.  We as a clinic, worked with the Secretary of State’s Office on an investor outreach project.  The final product will be one that we hope will create a long lasting relationship with the Secretary of State’s Office and will continue well beyond the end of the semester.  Coordination on the project involved communication between all six members of the clinic and really hit home the importance and significance of team work.   Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of clinic for me initially was giving up or rather sharing responsibility.  My team this semester worked exceptionally well together and accomplished far more than I could do on my own. Experiencing that kind of teamwork, where you can not only lean on each other when needed, but learn from each other and push each other to be better, is invaluable as we prepare to enter the legal profession.

My first semester in the clinic felt like an absolute whirlwind.  I was unsure of myself, afraid to even speak with a client in fear of saying something wrong, and uncertain of my work product.  But I wouldn’t take any of it back.  Near the end of my second semester now, I see it as growth.  You aren’t expected to know everything the moment you walk through the door, and trust me you won’t, but you have to be willing to learn.  I wish my fellow interns the best, thank them for their support and comradery, and know that they will all achieve great things.

My Clinic Story

By David Hsu, Fall 2016 Student Intern

Like most law students, I had no idea what to expect when my semester in the clinic started. We are told that programs such as clinics and externships offer opportunity to get practical experience, and clinics also offer the opportunity to help people who cannot otherwise afford legal services. All these things are true, but only by participation in the clinic did I get a true appreciation for the experience.

What did I enjoy most about the clinic?

By far the most enjoyable thing about working in the clinic is the teamwork and comradery developed between the team within the Investor Clinic we are assigned to. Each clinic is organized differently, and the Investor Clinic assigns its student interns into small teams, working together on cases. Legal work is unique in that our ethical obligations prevent us from discussing what we do with outside people. For those of us without prior legal experience, being able to discuss our work is important to the process of improving our legal skills. The investor clinic has offered me a unique opportunity to go through that process, and with it came friendships developed from working closely together.

What have I learned from the clinic?

The clinic is a far more immersive experience than most people realize. Due to the requirement to bill seven hours of time per week to the clinic and the many deliverables due throughout the semester, there is always clinic work to be done. Through that experience, we learned one of the most important skills needed to succeed in the legal field: to always push forward. As someone new to the legal profession, law students are often paralyzed by indecision. Because we aren’t sure if what we’re doing is right, there is a tendency to not do anything at all. However, when there are real clients with real deadlines always looming on the horizon, that paralysis is trumped by necessity. The end result is we are forced to do what will hopefully become second nature to us, which is making the best educated decision that we can based on what we know and correcting our course as we go.

How will the clinic help me as I enter the legal practice?

My focus above on general problem solving skills and developing relationships is not meant to imply that we didn’t also learn the substance of securities arbitration. Throughout the semester, we had to draft, edit, and ultimately submit claims for our clients. That process, especially with the peer editing that comes from working together in small groups, results in better legal writing skills. The cases we work on involve arbitration through FINRA and offers us a unique opportunity to see how statutes and agency regulations intersect with the arbitration process. The iterative nature of the work product we create in the clinic allows us to efficiently hone our legal writing and analysis skills, through a process of constant feedback from peers and clinic professor.

Additionally, the relationships developed in the clinic, not only between students, but also between the students and the clinic professor, is part of my professional network. Our clinical professor is passionate not only about our work in the clinic, but also about our professional success as soon to be lawyers. Having a network to advocate for our success in practice is something every law student should seek to attain, and the clinic offers a unique opportunity to develop that network in a substantive way that is usually not available before one enters practice.

My Clinic Story

By Majda Muhic, Fall 2016 Student Intern

I walked into the clinic my third year of law school clueless about securities law and eager to gain practical lawyering skills that, I hoped, would ease my transition from law school to practice. I will be walking out of my first clinic semester with a solid understanding of FINRA arbitration and an understanding of securities and securities law that only two months ago seemed insurmountable.  Perhaps more importantly, I will also be walking out more confident in my own ability to represent clients, stronger in my own identity as a young lawyer, and with a set of skills that are bound to make my impending transition to practice a whole lot smoother.

The time I spent working in the clinic – while at times challenging – has been fun, exciting, and surprisingly rewarding.  Receiving a phone call indicating that the other side may be willing to resolve a dispute informally after they received a letter my clinic team wrote was a uniquely rewarding experience – an experience that reminded me of our power and responsibility as young lawyers. This experience also reminded me of why I am in law school. Learning law between insular walls of classrooms often obscures the realities of why we do what we do. For me personally, keeping this perspective – keeping the end goal of client advocacy in sight – has been crucial to my success as a law student. The clinic nurtured this perspective in an environment that encouraged and pushed learning and was, at the same time, safe and supportive. With a combination of small and large team work, individualized attention, and work that ranged from interviewing clients to writing Statements of Claims, the clinic has been a sort of law practice incubator that pushed and nourished me at the same time. It has honed my skills while putting them in a practical and meaningful context.

Our collaboration with the Georgia Secretary of State office has been particularly exciting, as it has provided me with a more comprehensive view of securities law beyond merely representing clients in disputes. Working with lawyers at the Georgia Secretary of State office provided me with a glimpse into the regulatory side of securities law, a perspective that classroom teaching often overlooks. Again, this unique experience reminded me of our power and responsibility as young lawyers.

The clinic experience was illuminating in yet another way: it allowed me to recognize and appreciate some of my own strengths and weaknesses as a budding lawyer. Identifying strengths has been empowering. Identifying weaknesses and navigating them in a safe and supportive environment has been infinitely encouraging.  Both my personal and professional growth in such a short time span have exceeded any expectations – at least my own.