The Value of Clinical Education in Law School

Team meeting

When most people think about law school, they think of large classrooms where professors grill students on the nuances of case law. Law school is typically like this. However, there are other experiences beyond traditional classroom instruction.

Most notably, I'm talking about working in your law school's legal clinic. Under the guidance of your professor(s), you and your colleagues will work with real clients, attempting to solve the legal issues that they face.

Ultimately, I think that clinical experience can help you learn certain soft skills that you’ll use as a practicing attorney.

I joined Penn Law’s Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic during my 3L year. Compared to most clinics at Penn (and other law schools), the ELC was almost entirely focused on transactional work rather than litigation. I had one client all to myself and also worked with three other law students to represent another larger client.

Truthfully, it was one of the more difficult (and time-consuming) experiences I had in law school. But it was also one of the most rewarding.

I think the greatest benefit comes from the fact that you’re dealing with real clients. You learn soft skills that are nearly impossible to replicate in a normal classroom setting. I’m specifically thinking of things like managing client expectations, handling difficult conversations, and effectively representing your client at meetings with other lawyers. These are critical skills that you’ll need after law school.

I especially think that it’s useful to work in a transactional clinic simply because law school is so focused on litigation. In my time at the ELC, I negotiated contracts and worked with the Philadelphia city government on proposed legislation, among other things. This kind of experience adds to your repertoire even if you do ultimately become a litigator.

Granted, clinical experience will not totally prepare you for professional practice. Any law school or clinic that promises this is being disingenuous. But clinical experience can definitely complement the content that you learn in the classroom. You’ll get a head start on learning the soft skills that are vital to success in the legal field.