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.