For three law students, real life drama is all in a day’s work. Between juggling classes on evidence and corporations, they meet with real clients off campus as part of the Penn State Dickinson School of Law Family Law Clinic. Though it’s only been open since January, the clinic is busy.
The three student attorneys staffing the clinic, under supervising attorney and law school faculty member Jill Engle ’90, each have about six active cases with more on the way. “They’re responsible for everything from interviewing the clients to drafting and filing the necessary documents with the court to appearing in court when necessary,” Engle said. “Of course, I oversee their work every step of the way but it’s really their responsibility.”
And the students—Josh Young ’08, Beth Shore ’08 and Meghan Young—take the responsibility to their clients seriously. “Our clients are often in some of the most trying periods of their lives,” Young said, “And it’s rewarding to know that I can help ease their burden.”
Before taking Engle’s Family Law course and working in the clinic, Young said he never imagined working in domestic relations law. But the experience has inspired him to reconsider. It’s also teaching him about the reality of practicing law, including the fine line between counseling a client and interjecting one’s personal beliefs. “Ultimately, it’s the client’s decision, and their decisions may not align with my personal beliefs,” Young said.
Student attorneys staffing the clinic receive four credits for each semester they work. Because family crises and court proceedings can occur anytime, they also cover semester breaks and the summer and are paid for that time. The Family Law Clinic’s clients are referred by MidPenn Legal Services, serving low-income residents in 18 other counties in Central Pennsylvania, including Centre County where Penn State is located.
The Family Law Clinic is the third legal clinic offering real life experience to law students at University Park. The other clinics focus on immigration law and appellate practice. A fourth clinic—addressing rural and economic development issues—is scheduled to open in Fall 2010. The law school has a 30-year history of legal clinics in Carlisle. There, students can hone their skills in the Arts, Sports, and Entertainment Law Clinic; Children’s Advocacy Clinic; Disability Law Clinic; Elder Law and Consumer Protection Clinic; and the Family Law Clinic.
Get more information on Penn State law, including the various legal clinics.
This is the first in a series of snapshot stories on student life on campus.