Nine months in sunny California is the ultimate dream vacation for many LL.M. students. It is difficult to argue otherwise, when views of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge are welcome distractions from the piles of pages of new law you have to learn.
Everyone will keep reminding you – nine months will be a blur. Indeed, a new country, a new city, a new law system, of course, it will be a blur.
Take time to enjoy and savor each moment, each credit, each opportunity. After all, what great luck it is to experience this great conundrum of having too little time to do absolutely everything you want. After all, there is only one of you and ten simultaneous lunch talks that you want to attend; not to mention, all the interesting courses you could take. Make the absolute most out of everything and, while you are at it, think about joining the clinic in the spring. (Due to the application process, clinics open slots for LL.M. students for the spring semester.)
How do you know if clinic will work for you?
1. You are at Berkeley Law. You chose this institution for a reason. Berkeley Law is uniquely situated to host a robust and extensive range of clinics. What’s more exciting is that you are in California where the legal issues as well as legal strategies are complex and novel.
2. You want to get your hands dirty. Clinic offers the opportunity to leave the classroom setting and return to the familiar mini-firm work environment. Being away on your LL.M. may make you feel like you are getting rusty with the rudimentary “lawyer” work. Clinic is your way back, behind the computer, typing ferociously for your client.
A common theme among ELC cases is work and surprise. At our first team meeting with our Supervising Attorney, Professor Lin, Lindsay Love and I were informed that we needed to hit the ground running. We had to draft reply comments and submit them within five days. The rest of the semester echoed the same frenetic pace – drafting opening comments, conference calls, setting up a meeting with the commissioners, and more drafting. This is not much different from actual practice when you will be assigned to case and expected to file a brief in ten days. It was a whole mix of emotions, but our team could not have succeeded without the constant attention and guidance of Professor Lin.
Another essential element of clinic is required collaboration. Each team is also assigned a supervising attorney to steer them in the right direction. Since you are handling active matters on top of your school work, this structure provides support for balancing all the demands on your time.
3. You want to keep on learning. Clinic, in particular ELC, allows you to dip your toes in highly technical and specialized areas of law. Sometimes, the barriers to entry into specialized areas of law are so high that it can be intimidating to explore something new. Clinic, however, cultivates the perfect environment to learn.
There is no better way to learn than diving head first and swimming with the tides. Prior to working on my clinic project on biomethane, the only thing I knew about methane was its chemical formula – CH4, because there are four hydrogen molecules. Our proceeding, however, demanded the team to jump into the technical aspects of the law quickly and deeply–at the first meeting. Now, I can confidently inform you about the elements to gauge gas quality and inform you of possible local impacts of biomethane. This is the innate value of work, we work hard on being competent and somewhere along the way, you pick up a few tidbits of knowledge.
All the rigor of working, however, was consistently enriched by all the interesting insight of my classmates and the supervising attorneys. We had a great mix of JDs, LL.Ms (me), and policy students. Each member of the class participated in lively and insightful discussions on our projects, on policy making, and on our profession. As a foreign student, I loved listening and learning from all of my classmates.
And one last, before you go, because you will learn in nine months that everything in the U.S. comes in super sizes, so will your experiences.
Clinic is a great reminder of why we want to be lawyers. When you are under a pile of work, it is easy to forget what a privilege it is to practice law. Across jurisdictions, the law is reserved for those that can afford to enter into the profession and delay life for a moment (three to five years). Law students and lawyers alike will form part of- what is uncomfortable to acknowledge- an elite class. Yet, elite-ness should not be the reason why our profession is noble.
When we have more, we are called upon to serve more. Clinic is a great vehicle to remind us that service is inherent to our desire to be lawyers. While service can come in many forms, service must be directed to those that need it more.
Our desire for equity and justice needs very little translation. Although we may feel dwarfed by the Goliath-sized issues we face, we must never equate our size to the magnitude and the meaning of what we can done. How much more when we do things together? How much more when we do this for those that need it more?
May we always be reminded that service is what makes practice noble.