Student Clinician? —Who’s that?

What are Legal Clinics? 

Why do student clinicians pursue a clinic?

Those of you who do not know what a legal clinic entails, welcome! Those of you who have heard about them, I hope this post gives you some hands on insight! Legal clinics are individual pro bono legal consulting entities that law students take for credit and are offered as a part of the law school curriculum. They involve teams of rising second- and third-year law students providing legal consultation to real clients. Student clinicians work in tandem with an in-house attorney who acts as their supervisor. Legal clinic work usually involves advocacy-based legal advice.

 

Why Do Student Clinicians Work in Teams? 

Clinic work is teamwork. As a student clinician, one must know that no job can be done alone. Much like how the real legal world works, students are teamed with other student clinicians to work on a case(s). This work entails doing a preliminary research addressing a client’s major concerns in a memo. Preliminary research can be as basic as doing a Google search for relevant forms, permits, or agencies a client must be made aware of. The next step in research entails legislative, regulatory and statutory information that is relevant to the client’s case. The student clinicians meet as a team various times during this process to come up with a cohesive research plan. The final process is collating this information in terms that a client will be able to understand and utilize.

 

What is The Energy Clinic at Vermont Law School?

Photovoltaic Panels, Source: Pixabay

 

This summer, after completing my first year at Vermont Law School, I served as a student clinician at its Energy Clinic. The Energy Clinic is made up of the director of the program Kevin Jones, in-house attorney and supervisor Jeannie Oliver, advanced student clinicians (clinicians who do more than one semester of clinic work) and student clinicians. The Energy Clinic has historically advocated for the implementation of community solar projects and net-metering. Most of its clients come seeking regulatory and legal advice to implement small-scale and community solar projects.

The clinic also has had one qualifying conduit-based small hydro project and has had the opportunity to implement one of the first pico-hydro projects of this kind. Qualifying conduits are a recent development in Vermont that implement age-old techniques to harness energy. More information about these programs can be found on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website.

 

Making the Link Between Policy and Law — My Personal Experience 

The first year of law school is not for the fainthearted. I have learned everything from how the regulatory and statutory framework of the nation works to actually implementing it in my student clinician work. However, one way of thinking that I have been unsuccessful at turning off is considering the policy outcomes of challenging regulation and statutes–something Bard CEP has vigorously instilled in me.

Often, policy takes a backseat in first-year law classes (with the exception of a class called Legislation and Regulation, where policy is briefly touched upon). Even then it is hard to fathom policy without first challenging the ways in which regulation is implemented and the statutes interpreted. Law students are trained to look at the statutory interpretation, the regulation and what the law allows. Having a policy background, though, continues to encourage me to think of the policy implications of statutory interpretation.

For instance, in advising a client in interpreting a statute that applies to their case, I think about finding loopholes in the language to help clients interpret convoluted legalese in something the legal world likes to call legal “canons of statutory construction”. Some of these canons are;  “but for rule”, “and/or”, “shall/may”, “ordinary meaning/ statutory meaning“. Even while fighting for a client’s ultimate goal, I find it imperative to think of the legal implications such statutory language has. It is also important to keep in mind that challenging such language ultimately leads to drafting stronger policy!

 

Please note: None of the views expressed in this post represent the views of the Energy Clinic at Vermont Law School, VT. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the author and do not represent those people, institutions, or organizations that the author may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated.

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