Clinical experiences are one of the biggest draws for many students at the University of Richmond School of Law.  The clinics allow students the unique opportunity to work with real clients while under the supervision of skilled instructors, and those experiences often reveal the students’ passions.  Some students even go a step further and end up pursuing careers in the very field they worked in while in the clinic.  Valerie Slater (L ’12), Kati Dean (L ’13), and Catherine Gill (L ’13) all got their start in the Children’s Defense Clinic and the Education Rights Clinic.  Today, the three of them continue that work at the disAbility Law Center of Virginia (formerly the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy).

For Dean, her work with the Education Rights Clinic gave her the chance she needed to get a job at the dLCV.  “I think that my clinic participation gave me an edge during the interview,” Dean explained, “and I ended up working at VOPA for the summer…and then I never left.”  Gill’s clinical experience pointed her to her career goals; “after my experience in the clinics, I knew I wanted to find a job in the public sector that would allow me to advocate for the rights of children.”  Slater feels like the clinics provided her with skills that translate to any aspect of the law.  “I am a more skillful attorney,” she explains, “in large part thanks to the many opportunities to engage the legal system in practice through clinic experiences.”  

Working in the clinics also gives client experience that simply cannot be attained elsewhere.   “There really is no substitute for experience when dealing with clients and cases,” said Dean, “both clinics were challenging and fun, and gave me the opportunity to work on real cases, with real clients, while being supported by the brilliant faculty at UR.”  Slater’s experience solidified what she thought coming in to law school; “I chose to enrich my legal education through the Children’s Defense Clinic and the Education Rights Clinic because they echo my passion to zealously defend the rights of youth.”  Gill, on the other hand, had an eye-opening experience with the clinics.  “I thought the opportunity to participate in clinics would give me real world experience of how I could work with children in the legal field,” she explained.  “Little did I know that participating in the clinics would spark my passion for special education and juvenile justice issues as well as lead to my future job.”

Work in the clinics is challenging, and is often full of obstacles that must be overcome.  Even so, all three women agree that working for their clients made all of the headaches worth it.  Slater recalls a unique case, where she had “the opportunity to simultaneously represent a student in both clinics. In the Education Rights Clinic, before the Richmond School Board, I successfully advocated for the overturning of the local school division’s recommendation for expulsion. In the Children’s defense Clinic, in Richmond JDR court, I successfully advocated for the case to be dismissed.”  Dean remembers a case that didn’t go her way, but still taught her an important lesson.  “We ended up losing, but afterward, the client thanked me for fighting for him, instead of just agreeing to diversion from the start. It made me realize that even when you don’t win a case, you are still providing a vitally important service for your clients just by standing up and speaking for them, and making sure that they are being heard.”  Ultimately, it’s the connections with the clients that are most satisfying at the end of the day.  “I was able to represent and work with a child with complex medical issues,” said Gill.  “After lots of hard work and many IEP meetings, we were finally able to find the child an appropriate placement that pleased everyone. Seeing a parent and a child happy was a very rewarding experience.”