Getting Out of the Typical Classroom Environment

By: Andrew Brown, Fall 2017 HeLP Clinc Student Intern

Over the course of this fall semester I have found myself thinking back to my 1L year and comparing just how much I get to do now. In my 1L year, my biggest stressor was getting the reading done for each class and being sure to review prior. Now, the biggest concerns on my mind revolve around another person entirely: my client. This has changed my perspective for the better and it makes me incredibly proud of my decision to come to law school. The biggest thing I’ve noticed over the course of this current semester is how I feel when I’m in the clinic versus how I’m feeling when I’m anywhere else within the law school.

I obviously don’t tell my friends outside the HeLP Clinic any of the confidential details about our cases. However, I do let them know generally what the clinic involves and explain broadly some of the things I get to do. It is fun to see their eyes light up and say, “Wow, you really get to work with real clients? That’s crazy!” I remember thinking back to when that was a foreign concept to me as well. However, now I don’t bat an eyelash when it comes time to call a client. I love the experiential learning that GSU provides and it really does make a difference. The classroom setting can only provide so much.

The balancing of being a student and feeling like an attorney has been an interesting progression. I went through a similar experience over this past summer when I interned at the Georgia Court of Appeals. By day, I was writing court opinions, researching, and talking with judges and attorneys, and by night I was sitting in Constitutional law with Professor Kinkopf learning about the ambiguities of interstate commerce. I feel the same is happening this semester with the clinic and my other classes.

When I’m in the clinic, I feel like I’m an actual attorney calling the shots and putting someone else’s needs ahead of mine. However, when I’m in class, I go back to feeling almost like a 1L again trying to get my reading done and being prepared for class. I’ve spoken with other students in the clinic and they feel the same way. It’s interesting to see the bond develop among clinic students as we balance the needs of actual clients with real problems and our own academic responsibilities and goals. I find myself putting the client’s needs over my own most of the time. Sometimes that is hard to do, but it is what I signed up for. I have not had any regret since starting the clinic. If anything, the clinic has motivated me to learn as much as possible because it may relate to a future client someday.

I’ve already seen that happen in action. For example, our housing case involved an education law issue and I had a little background in it from a previous experience. I was able to sit in with Professor Mitchell’s team and give them some clarity on the issue and was even able to provide potential recommendations about what the next step should be. The point is that when I was putting together a Section 504 complaint back in Indiana, I had no idea I would ever be using that again.

Building off that experience, I want to be so good at what we do in the clinic that going forward after law school, I can make the issues in which the clinic specializes (Disability, Housing, Education) my pro bono specialty when I’m licensed. I love the idea of being knowledgeable on a subject and using that information to help people. It has been an amazing semester so far and I am starting to look at learning as a duty more than it is something I have to do in order to get a piece of paper that says “Juris Doctor” on it. Meaning, I feel like I have a responsibility to my future clients to learn as much as I can in order to better serve them.