Jason Seiden, L’10, hasn’t taken the bar, but in the first four days of a clinical placement at the Chesterfield County Commonwealth Attorney’s office, he participated in three trials.

“Clinics help law school students start their careers a year before they can start their careers,” says Seiden, who worked two days a week at the Chesterfield office this fall. “There’s no substitute for getting in front of a judge and arguing a case.”

A component of the Law School’s curriculum for more than two decades, clinics provide opportunities for budding lawyers to gain confidence while working alongside skilled practitioners, says Margaret Bacigal, administrative director of the Clinical Placement Program.

“Students acquire a better understanding of the complexities of legal practice by assisting some great lawyers,” she says. “They see how different areas of the law intersect; how individuals’ interests, personalities, and emotions impact the course of representation, and the importance of professionalism.”

For some students, the clinical experience is life changing.

Christie Marra, L’91, says she had begun wondering if she wanted to practice law when she finished school. Then she attended a meeting about clinical placements, and spoke to a classmate who was enthusiastic about his experience with legal aid. Those conversations reminded her of why she came to law school, and she took a clinical placement with the Virginia Legal Aid Society.

She worked there as a staff attorney for 13 years, and then moved to the Virginia Poverty Law Center, where she has been the past five years working with clients and lobbying at the Virginia Capitol.

“I really think that clinic was a pivotal moment in my life in terms of my career,” Marra says. “It was an opportunity to impact the lives of real people.”

Sandra Hong, L‘10, admits that devoting 20 hours a week to a clinic is a lot of work, but she finds it “one of the best experiences in law school.”

Hong helped five lawyers with civil cases in a clinical placement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia. Last summer, she interned in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.

A former newspaper reporter with an interest in social justice, Hong says she is considering a career doing government or public interest work.

“I got a sense [through the clinical experiences] of the importance of doing government work and being a keeper of the public trust,” Hong says. “These lawyers have a deep sense of duty and responsibility for what they’re doing.”

Students who have experience in clinic work understand the importance of their accomplishments.

“There’s a whole world of public service out there that needs good, experienced, motivated, hard-working attorneys,” Seiden says. “The poor, the indigent need the best attorneys just like the biggest companies. You may sacrifice to do this type of work, [but] saving someone’s family through your work is just as rewarding if not more rewarding.”

This article by Marilyn J. Shaw originally appeared in the winter 2010 issue of Richmond Law magazine. Read the full article.