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Clinical internships guide path to success for first-year lawyers

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It’s the new associate’s first week on the job since being admitted to the bar when the senior partner gives him an assignment: “I’d like you to file a motion to move the Jones case from state court to federal court.”

Such a request can be a deer-in-the-headlights moment for many new lawyers. Succeeding at the task requires the associate to know the nuts-and-bolts practicalities of law — the layout of the courthouse and the clerk’s offices, the filing procedures in both state and federal court, and how to research federal rules of civil procedure to assure that the proper process is followed for removal.

At California Western School of Law, the clinical internship program places law students in private law firms, courts, corporations, and government agencies to assure that on their first job as an associate they can handle the senior partner’s directive with a confident, “No problem, ma’am.”

The school’s ambitious program reflects California Western’s commitment to combine a rigorous academic education with meaningful practical experience so students are fully prepared for a legal career.

Dianne K. O’Connor, San Diego small claims court commissioner, is an enthusiastic supporter of one of the school’s clinical programs — advanced mediation — that teams law students with the court.

“It is probably one of the best programs I’ve seen developed within the last 10 years,” she said. “It is extremely beneficial, not only to the court, but also to any law student who wants to get hands-on experience mediating disputes and becoming familiar with courtroom proceedings.”

The school’s diverse clinical internship program focuses on developing a number of key attributes, said Professor Janet Weinstein, who directs the programs.

“The best internships give students insights into how the legal system works, enhances their lawyering skills, and instills professionalism,” she said. “We really want the students to develop their abilities to learn from real-world experience and to become thoughtful problem solvers so they can be successful first-year attorneys.”

The programs offer a wealth of opportunities. Kristin Glencer Strojan, now an associate at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary in San Diego, found herself as a California Western student to be an extern for Judge David R. Thompson of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I traveled with the court to observe oral arguments in San Francisco and Seattle,” she recalled. “I enjoyed working with intelligent and influential people. It exceeded my expectations of what a legal internship might be and really gave me an edge in terms of developing my legal skills.”

For more information about California Western’s clinical programs, contact Ruth Briscoe, internship program administrator, at (619) 525-1438 or rbriscoe@ cwsl.edu.

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