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The New York Court of Appeals limits the number of clinical or "non-classroom" credits that applicants for admission to the New York Bar may take to no more than 20. The credit allocation in some of the clinical programs is divided between "clinical" credits awarded for field work and non-clinical seminar credits awarded for the classroom seminar component.
Be sure that when you plan your overall program, the total number of non-academic credits does not exceed the 20-credit limit.
Differences between the Client Representation Clinic and the Experience in an Externship or a Simulation Clinical Program
The central purpose of all clinical programs is to help students make the transition from doing what students or law clerks do to doing what lawyers do, and to make this transition in a thoughtful, purposeful manner. What distinguishes the client representation programs is that the student is the lawyer -- not the assistant, not the researcher, but the lawyer. Supervising attorneys are available for consultation, but the students, not the supervisors, represent the clients and make the decisions. There are remarkably few limits on what lawyering work clinical interns can do, other than those that are self-imposed. In essence, you are an associate in a small, public-interest law firm or public-sector office.
The major difference between a client representation clinic, and the experience you may have in a summer job or an externship, is that in the clinic you are able, and expected, to take front-line responsibility, albeit in the context of an educational environment with continuing guidance, supervision, and feedback. Because clinics operate under a Student Practice Order, you are permitted to engage in the practice of law on behalf of clinic clients, and to perform lawyers' tasks that otherwise would be illegal for you to do. In most externships and paid employment, you can only assist the working lawyer, who remains primarily responsible. (Administrative law settings, such as in our Legal Services/Public Interest/Health Law Externship and the Environmental Law Externship, present unusual opportunities for student representation of clients, because at administrative hearings non-lawyers often are permitted to provide representation.)
As a clinic or an externship or simulation participant, the bulk of your time will not be spent in class. You will be doing the work needed on your cases: research, drafting, interviews of clients and witnesses, meeting with colleagues and supervisors, telephone calls, correspondence, depositions or hearings, court appearances, and so forth. Everything you do will be planned and later reviewed with your supervisor, but you are responsible for making sure that the case proceeds forward and the work gets done.
In addition to field work, all the programs have a seminar component. The seminar is not intended to do more of what law students are accustomed to doing, i.e., accumulating information in a fairly systematic, somewhat passive manner, through readings and lectures. Rather, the seminars are designed to make sure that your lawyering experiences constitute a coherent, well-organized educational program, not just "exposure to the real world." Seminars provide you with the tools you need in your work, and arise out of your work: when a case, or group of cases, raises issues of general significance, it makes sense to address these issues in a seminar format. Students should expect to contribute to discussion, not just take notes. Occasionally you may be called upon to conduct a seminar in an area in which you've developed some expertise.
All clinical courses are graded, usually, with two separate grades awarded for the clinical and the academic components. In addition, in the client representation programs we use a separate evaluation form to provide detailed feedback to students on their progress as developing lawyers.
Clinic and externship program graduates may tell you that the clinical experience gave real meaning to the doctrine they learned in other courses, and, by crystallizing what they had learned, helped them with the bar examination. Often students say that their clinic experience impressed prospective employers. An almost universal reaction is a sense of having moved a long way down the path of truly becoming a lawyer, and of having begun to learn the single most critical skill a lawyer can possess: how to go on learning, long after law school, from observing one's own performance and the work of other lawyers