To Clinic, or Not To Clinic: There is No Question….

Many prospective students often ask about the Law Center’s Clinical Education Program.  So this week’s post attempts to answer some of those inquiries by explaining what the clinic work entails and highlighting the priceless benefits received by those participating in their 2 or 3L year at the UHLC.  In a nutshell, here is what you should know: 

The Law Center has six separate clinical courses that our students may take once they are in their 2L year.  The clinics are the culmination of a student’s legal education and provide a bridge between the theory taught in class and the real-life practice of law that students find themselves upon graduation.  Essentially, clinical education is “learning by doing.”  Students in the clinics act as lawyers representing real clients in actual cases while under the close supervision of faculty. 

In the Civil Practice, Consumer Law, and Immigration Clinics this means that students interview clients, develop a plan of action on behalf of their clients, draft and sign pleadings, argue motions, conduct discovery–including depositions, counsel their clients, negotiate settlements, try the case in court, and appeal the matter if necessary.  Students in the Transactional Clinic also interview clients, counsel their clients as to the best course of action to accomplish their client’s objectives, negotiate agreements, draft the necessary documents, appear on behalf of the client before any regulatory or licensing agencies, and represent their clients at closings.  The Criminal Practice Clinics require students act as prosecutors.  This means that our students meet with the police, decide what charges to bring, draft and file indictments, bring and respond to motions, negotiate plea bargains, and try the cases.  Students participating in the Mediation Clinic act as mediators trying to resolve disputes arising in the courts.  In fact, the Law Center is the only law school that offers its students 40-hours of mediation training prior to gradation…for FREE!!

The ultimate goal of the clinical program is to prepare our students for the practice of law, so that when they graduate they are ready to hit the ground running.  During the clinical experience, students will have most of the rights and responsibilities of a practicing attorney hired to solve a client’s problem.  That means that the student will have to figure out the law governing the issue, develop a strategy for resolving the problem, and implementing a solution.  However, our students are not alone in this process.  Their work is continuously checked by a clinic supervisor who discusses with the student their strategy and implementation thereof, and how to perfect it for future cases.  Moreover, a required classroom component for each clinic will discuss the subject-specific law involved in more detail.  By the end of the semester our students have taken a substantial step forward in preparing to practice law through this combination of (1) working on real cases with real problems, (2) close faculty supervision of their work, and (3) discussing their clinic work in the clinic’s classrooms component. 

To put this all in perspective, I wish to spotlight an extremely unique case that some very fortunate clinical students recently experienced.  On December 14, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert on an immigration case in which the UH Law Center’s Immigration Clinic is co-counsel!!  The case, Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, was argued before the Court on March 31, 2010.  UHLC Clinical Associate Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman, with the help of the Immigration Clinic, served as co-counsel with Sri Srinivasan of the Washington, D.C. firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP–who presented the oral argument.  Two former clinic attorneys – Anne Chandler ’98 and Tom Perkinson ’00 – assisted as the case worked its way through the lower courts.  Professor Hoffman and some of the students who helped research the merits brief visited Washington for the oral argument.  Here is a photo: http://www.law.uh.edu/news/spring2010/0405scotus.html.  For more on the case, click here: http://www.law.uh.edu/news/fall2009/1215immigration-clinic-scotus.html

If that unique and honorable experience hasn’t quite sold you, here are some comments from a few students who participated in the clinical programs:

“Participating in the transactional clinic is a fantastic way to gain knowledge about business organizations.  I would recommend this clinic to anyone interested in drafting contracts, dealing with clients, and learning the role contracts play in corporate operations.” — Ada Ferrer

“When you are in the Clinic you jump into the law where you directly advocate on behalf of those who really need it.  It is an experience that cannot be learned in a classroom.  Having real clients, with real emotions, where your creativity and skills makes a difference cannot be read in a textbook.” — Eric Benavides, 2L

“The Consumer Law Clinic is jam-packed with hands-on lessons in practical lawyering, from interviewing clients to drafting pleadings to trial appearances.  It’s a real chance to make a difference for people who might otherwise not be able to defend their rights–and to do so in the context of a very collegial, supportive, and upbeat environment.” –Jackie Pontello, Class of 2004

“The Clinic is intense, but the practical hands-on experience you get has made it the most useful & worthwhile class of my law school time.  This, coupled with the great feeling of helping people truly in need, has made the semester enjoyable.”Vickie Slater, 3L, Immigration Clinic

To find out more about a specific clinic, please click on the following link: http://www.law.uh.edu/clinic/homepage.html 

You Asked, We Answered

This past Monday I offered to answer your dying questions about the Law Center or law school in general.  I received some really great questions!  Below are the questions submitted & their answers:

(1)  Is U of H going to get a new law building? If so, what is the timeline?

Recently there have been rumors circulating that a new building is in our future here at the Law Center.  However, that is all that we have heard–rumors.  Nothing concrete as of yet; but believe me, the moment I catch wind of something more substantiated, I will be the first to let you all know about it!!  What I will say is that even if the rumors are true, given the state of the economy and the looming budget cut from the Governor’s office for state institutions, it is unlikely that we will see a new building in the immediate future.  Sorry.  I will continue to keep you all posted on the status of this topic.     

(2)  You say that students can highlight leadership to increase their chances of admission.  Could you please provide some examples of leadership demonstrated by previously admitted applicants that put them over the top?  

 Yes.  In my March 29th post, I stressed the importance of leadership and community involvement in your application.  These factors really help set students apart that are otherwise similarly categorized by grades and LSAT scores.  While there is no one activity that I can say has pushed one applicant over another, what we love to see is a history of leadership and/or community involvement.   

 Now, this does not mean go join any and all organizations you can.  While these organizations will appreciate your help as a volunteer, it does not necessarily exemplify the leadership qualities that we are searching for in our applicant pool.  What we prefer to see (or rather prefer you emphasize) is involvement in organizations in a leadership capacity.  (Please don’t stop volunteering though–we like to see those opportunities as well because they demonstrate admirable character traits and time management skills.)  Bottom-line: think quality over quantity in terms of your extra-curricular activities or work experience. 

That being said, examples of leadership that have set past applicants apart include:  

  • Leadership in undergraduate student government or other student association
  • Accolades on debate team, mock trial team, or at Model UN conference
  • Leadership position in newspaper or other publication; actual article(s) published
  • Founding or running a business
  • Internship with elected official
  • Captain of NCAA sports team/professional or Olympic athlete
  • Teach for America participant
  • Military experience

As some of you may know, each application submitted to the UHLC is looked at by several folks in the review committee.  So, I reached out to another admissions counselor here at the Law Center (Scott Palmer) for his take on this question, so that you have two perspectives to assist you in making your application the best it can be (in our eyes, that is).  Here is his response:

“The most common examples I’ve seen won’t surprise anybody: elected positions in student organizations, military experience, service/volunteerism, management experience or promotions at work, internships with elected officials, service or professional awards, etc.

But the list of possibilities is endless, and simply having experience with a specific organization/employer/senator is not as important as what the experience says about the applicant.  Being elected to an officer position in a service organization or receiving a promotion at work are indicators that the applicant is perceived as a leader and that others have confidence in his/her ideas and management style – even if those organizations aren’t well-known.It also helps if the prior experience is related to the applicant’s future goals.  When compared to the overall pool of law school applicants, experience as a substitute elementary school teacher may not initially seem like the type of ‘leadership’ that the question is asking about.  But if that particular applicant aspires to a career in Family Law and has chosen UHLC because of our Center for Children’s Law and Policy, then that applicant’s experience has painted us a bigger, brighter picture than her GPA and LSAT alone would reveal.

When I review an application, I’m not just evaluating how likely someone is to succeed in law school, but also how likely she is to appeal to employers after law school, and how much I sense that law school is a part of her bigger plan or purpose.  So applicants should reach into their own bag of tricks and highlight the leadership and community involvement that most closely matches their end game.  That really could be anything.”

Note: By providing you with these examples/statements, we are in no way, shape, or form suggesting that if another applicant should be involved in any one of these activities that they will be guaranteed admission.  Remember, each file is reviewed in a very holistic manner—so we look at a multitude of factors in reaching our decisions. 

(3)(a) What was OCI like this year for students? 

While fall 2009 was a much publicized, troubled recruiting season across the nation, over 85 employers participated in the Law Center’s fall OCI program.  Additionally, 35+ employers participated in our Government and Public Interest Table Talk in January and 20 employers recruited with us for Spring OCI.  

(b) How many [students] have paid positions with private law firms lined up for this summer?     

Our Career Development Office is still collecting this data.  I will keep you posted.    

(c) Were all of the firms in Houston or were some in other large Texas cities? 

Houston is the fifth-largest legal market in the US; so notably, most of our students (around 94%) stay in the Houston area upon graduation.  Likewise, the majority of our OCI employers are from Houston; however a number of our graduates also enjoy summer internships or clerk for firms in Dallas and Austin and we usually have a couple of students travel to D.C. or NYC. 

(d) What are the employment stats like for students who graduated last May? 

I am happy to announce that 75% of our May 2009 graduates reported employment at graduation, while 95.5% reported employment 9 months after graduation.  Our Career Development Office devotes hundreds of man hours to tracking down our recent graduates to give an honest reporting of the graduating class’ employment stats.  In fact, we have close to 100% reporting.  Given the economy, these employment results speak for themselves.   

(4) What kind of legal jobs do people who do the health law and policy specialty go into?

As many of you may know, our Health Law & Policy Institute is amongst the top health law programs in the country.  Similarly, the Law Center’s Houston Journal of Health Law & Policy is among the top ten law and medicine journals in the US.  Both the HLPI and Journal take advantage of their location in a city that boasts the largest medical complex in the world.  The Institute’s concentrations are varied in the scope of topics in health care and include (without limitation) biotechnology, empirical assessments of health care laws, electronic medical records, human experimentation, food and drug laws, genetics, managed care, patient safety and medical error, reproductive health, disability discrimination, hospital liability, health care finance, end-of-life issues, HIV, corporate transactions, and health care fraud and abuse. 

Here is a non-exhaustive list of career choices for students concentrating in the health law field (J.D. & L.L.M.):

  • Private Practice – insurance & malpractice litigation, regulatory or transactional practice, health care consultant
  • Hospitals – staff attorney in legal services or general counsel offices, counsel in risk management departments, hospital administrator
  • Government agencies – staff attorney or consultant to…Texas Dept. of Health/Human Services, Texas Dept. of Insurance, Texas Dept. of Assistive & Rehabilitative Services, Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission, Harris County Hospital District, Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, Nat’l Institute of Health, US Food & Drug Administration, US Dept. of Health & Human Services, Nat’l Labor Relations Board
  • Legislature – Legislative consultant, state representative or senator, member of the Governor’s Health Care Policy Advisory Council
  • Non-profit advocacy groups/Research – staff attorney, research analyst, clinician for…The Institute for Rehabilitation & Research (TIRR), ACL, American Heart Association, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, American Cancer Society, American Public Health Association, Urban Institute
  • Corporate – counsel, consultant, analyst for pharmaceutical companies, human resources (benefits plan specialist, HR director, compliance specialist, veterans program specialist), counsel for insurance companies (claims specialist, health insurance specialist, insurance fraud investigator, workers’ compensation claims examiner/specialist)

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Also, U.S. News & World Report just posted a Q&A about the Law Center entitled, “How to Get In.”  Check it out—there are some good pointers in the article for folks interested in applying to the UHLC:  http://www.usnews.com/education/best-law-schools/articles/2010/04/23/how-to-get-in-university-of-houston-law-center.html?PageNr=1

Update: Class Visits & Tours

Hello from the Admissions Office!  As the final exam period is nearly upon us, class visits and tours are drawing to a close.  April 30th is the final day that you can participate in these activities, so please call soon to schedule your visit.

Tours are available on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays at noon.  Because tours are usually provided by a current student, we ask that you schedule your tour appointment at least 24 hours in advance of the date you would like to visit the Law Center, so that we can arrange for a tour guide.

Similarly, we are happy to arrange a visit to a first year law school class during the fall and spring semesters.  Class visits are by appointment only and should be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance of the class you would like to attend.  Visitors should plan to arrive at the Office of Admissions at least 15 minutes prior to the start of class and must stay for the entire class period. 

You can schedule your class visit or tour by calling 713.743.2280 or by sending an email to lawadmissions@uh.edu.  We look forward to meeting you!!

(If you can’t make it before April 30th, don’t worry!  We will resume class visits at the start of the fall semester.)

Update: 2010 Admissions Cycle

Quite a few of you have asked about application volume for the current application cycle, so we figured we would give you the numbers as the cycle progresses.  Thus far, we have received roughly 3,800 applications and that number is still growing (our part-time deadline has not yet approached).  To put that figure in perspective, this time last year we had approximately 3,200 applications!  So we are noticing a drastic jump in applicants and the competitiveness of this year’s applicant pool. 

If you are still waiting on a decision, please note that due to this increased application load, we are simply juggling a larger work load & are trucking through the applications as fast as humanly possible.  Please bear with us–we understand how stressful the waiting can be.  We promise to have all decisions out no later than mid-May (if not sooner). 

In other admissions-related topics, our class size will remain around 70 students per section in the full-time program (the full-time program consists of 3 sections) and 50 students for the evening program.  These numbers keep the UHLC competitive with the nation’s top law schools in terms of student-faculty ratio and the highest in Texas.  Similarly, Dean Nimmer has continued to recruit top talent to a faculty that already holds an international reputation for excellence.  This factor, along with the Law Center’s focus on decreasing the entering class size over the coming years, will only add to the already stellar student-faculty ratio and our students’ overall experience at the UHLC. 

 To learn more about the five new professors joining the Law Center this fall, please see the Dean’s Note at: http://www.law.uh.edu/news/dean/homepage.html.