Working at the clinic during the summer was a very rewarding experience. I participated in the Families and the Law Clinic during the spring semester and continued with this practice area through the summer. I represented clients on a variety of legal matters, including child custody and support, civil protection orders, and U Visa and VAWA petitions. I also had the opportunity to represent clients in proceedings before the D.C. Superior Court on three separate occasions over the course of the summer.
The first court hearing involved a child custody case, in which the defendant had filed a Motion for Contempt against my client, the petitioner, as well as a Motion to Modify. During this hearing, I successfully introduced several pieces of evidence under various hearsay exceptions (with the help of a very savvy client). Seeing how lectures from Evidence class played out in a live courtroom was a very interesting experience.
In a separate case, another clinic intern and I represented the plaintiff in a custody trial that was ultimately resolved through a settlement agreement that we negotiated between our client and the defendant. I had not had any real experience with settlement negotiations, outside of simulated negotiations I participated in as part of the FALC coursework. Looking back at this experience, I think that I definitely underestimated how challenging this would be. I did not anticipate the amount of hard work, attention to detail and patience this process would require. After two weeks of constant back-and-forth between the parties, we finally reached an agreement the Friday before our Monday hearing. This was a major accomplishment our team was very proud of and that will greatly benefit our client and her family.
The most interesting case for me this summer was one involving child support that I continued working on from the spring semester. One of the many unique aspects of this case was the fact that the respondent was represented by a young associate attorney at a large, well-known D.C. law firm. The clinic had been representing the petitioner in this case for several years, but the respondent had been pro se until the end of my spring semester. Both the factual and procedural history of this case is quite complex, and a Financial Review Hearing was held over the summer. Although I felt prepared for this hearing after closely studying the facts of the case and the rules of Family Court, I was still really nervous to argue against an actual attorney from a prestigious law firm. As soon as the hearing began, I was surprised to see that my opposing counsel actually seemed more nervous that I was! I quickly realized that I was significantly more familiar with Family Court conventions and procedures than he was, thanks to the preparation I received from working at the clinic. It was very encouraging to see that, as a student intern, I was receiving the same legal skills training as a young law firm associate. I’ve been told countless times that clinic provides some of the most valuable and practical legal experience you can get as a student, and this experience definitely confirmed that for me.
In addition to the legal skills training and courtroom practice, one of the most valuable parts of my clinic experience has been the opportunity to work directly with clients. Building relationships with clients on an individual basis, rather than simply analyzing an abstract set of facts and legal arguments, allowed me to better understand and advocate my clients’ unique goals and values. On a personal level, I felt that these relationships have showed me how strong people can be in the face of adversity, and how hard they will fight to protect their loved ones. The courage and determination of these individuals continues to amaze and inspire me.
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J. Inigo Soriano