Somewhere in 1973-75 I took a simulation clinical course with Mike Meltsner and Phil Schrag, called I think Clinical Seminar in Public Interest Litigation, on which Mark and I later modeled the criminal version we taught. The course was a total eye-opener. For the first time I had some understanding of what lawyers actually do in litigating cases and counseling clients, something that was hardly apparent in my classroom courses. As one concrete example: despite having gotten an E -- the then-equivalent of today's A grade -- in second semester of civil procedure, which spent a fair amount of time on something called "discovery," I learned in the clinic that I actually had never understood what discovery was actually for, let alone how it worked, until we engaged in preparing interrogatories and document requests and conducting depositions. I realized that there was a huge difference between taking a course in "The Rules of Chess" and actually learning how to play the game. (I also learned that I had fellow students who might not have been especially adept in the kind of skills tested in large doctrinal classes, who were outstanding, and way beyond me, in interpersonal skills and practical judgment essential to practicing law.)
Admission to the seminar was by instructor permission, and demand was high. A fellow student asked if I could write a recommendation to the professors that she be admitted to the course, and I complied. Phil Schrag called me to his office, and spent about 20 minutes dissecting my note and analyzing how it could have been more persuasive. Phil was a truly great teacher, and one of the lessons he instilled in me was that even the most modest exercise in persuasive writing was about advocacy, and that any time a lawyer set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to try to get someone to do something, strategic planning and careful writing and editing were mandatory.
The entire experience of that clinic was transformative for me in getting me to think about what lawyering is. It took a few years after graduation for that to flower into my undertaking a non-academic job as an AUSA, but I don't know that I would have taken that step, which in turn set me on the road to my present day job, without having had that course.
I have fond memories of my Not-For-Profit/Small Business Clinic experience. Barbara was (and is) just terrific: smart, engaging and warm. I remember we all really wanted to both learn some real-world lawyering skills and help the clients. Very few classes engaged me as much as the clinic did. I credit it with nurturing my career-long interest in helping not-for-profits, which has lead me to pretty remarkable places.
Working with the child advocacy clinic directly impacted the lives of the children we advocated for, as well as my view of the world. Jane Spinak is a caring, tenacious and highly qualified advocate, who helped me look beyond the prevailing corporate concerns at Columbia Law School. There was no single isolated incident that represented her outlook but it was clear in her daily hard work and commitment .
I didn't take a clinic while in law school because there weren't any clinics at Columbia by the time I graduated in 1969. (I did take what may have been a precursor of the clinics, a seminar with Professor Cooper in which we contributed research for lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.) But I made up for it by devoting most of my academic career to clinical teaching, first at the University of Chicago Law School and then at Vanderbilt Law School (including 21 years as the director of Vanderbilt's clinical program).
My law school experience at Morningside Heights Legal Services convinced me that the only career I wanted was a career in civil legal services. After graduation, I refused to accept no for an answer and would not accept any other job offer. After a 9-month job search, I started at Passaic County Legal Aid Society as a staff attorney in 1980 and now, 36 years later, am the Director of Manhattan Legal Services. During my clinic, I handled cases involving New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA") hearings and domestic violence victims. My first client was a domestic violence survivor who had been blinded by acid thrown by his wife. He wanted nothing more to do with her and was totally grateful when I was able to get him a divorce. This experience challenged me not to accept stereotypes about gender and about survivors. I also remember a NYCHA hearing I handled in which I was required to go to Riker's Island to interview a witness. It ended up taking me hours and hours; the waiting room in the jail was one of the most depressing places I have ever visited and cemented my desire to enter a career that sought racial and economic justice. Because I had learned federal public housing law in the clinic, when I started at Passaic County Legal Aid Society I quickly ascertained that the two housing authorities I dealt with were violating federal law by not providing impartial hearings. My first class action was a challenge to the Paterson Housing Authority for their failure to offer hearings required by federal law. The clinic was the best part of my law school experience and I will be forever grateful to Holly Hartstone and Laura Norman for inspiring me to embark on a legal services career. A shout out also to the administrative assistant (Wanda, I think was her name) who taught me more practical things, such as that judgment has no "e".
I credit my experience in the Non-Profit/Small Business Clinic, taught by Barbara Schatz, with shaping the trajectory of my legal career. I always wanted to work in a cultural institution or university, but wasn't sure how to make that happen, and prior to the Clinic experience, I thought I would be a corporate lawyer. In the Clinic, I was introduced to tax law through our study of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and realized most institutions I'd be interested in working for were 501(c)(3) organizations and needed lawyers who understood tax issues.
Armed with my clinic experience and a semester of federal income tax, I joined the tax department at my law firm, and in between M&A transactions sought out as much tax-exempt work as possible, as well as joined the firm's pro bono committee. Ultimately I left the firm to work as a lawyer for a public university and now I work at a large museum in New York City. This career path was made possible through what I learned in the Clinic and my continued focus on working with exempt organization. Barbara not only taught us legal skills, but also how to interview and work with clients and work on legal issues as a team. I recommend the Clinic to any law student I meet, and suggest it to people seeking free legal services. It was truly the highlight of my law school experience!
Since I was working my way through law school I got a work study job working for Professor Michael Meltsner. That led me to getting a summer job working for Philip Schrag at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. That led to my being accepted as a student by Harriet Rabb and George Cooper in the first Fair Employment Clinic. To say that changed my life would be an understatement. After graduation I went to work at the Department of Consumer Affairs and 18 months later I went back to Columbia to teach the Fair Employment Clinic with Harriet and George. I worked there for five years and had the privilege of being the co-author with them of Fair Employment Practices which was the first textbook in employment discrimination litigation. It was published by West in 1975. When the employment clinic closed I left Columbia and have been practicing employment law ever since.
I was working out of a welfare office in Hell's Kitchen in 1977-78. Harriet Rabb invited me to join the clinic and I worked with George Cooper. It was the best experience of my time at the law school (other than the time I am spending now with Alex Carter in the mediation clinic, which is great). My best memory was visiting my favorite client, Elizabeth King, at home. She was an elderly welfare recipient who was living in an abandoned walk up with several very large dogs for protection. Never mind walking up those stairs every day. I never understood how she managed to string extension cords from the abandoned building next door across a narrow alley up to her 4th floor in the dead of winter. She was a remarkable lady and I always appreciated her complete joviality under what most would consider pretty tough circumstances. I wrote an article at the time titled, "God bless you, Elizabeth King, wherever you are". I still feel the same.
I was in the first year of the AIDS Discrimination Clinic. Deborah Greenberg and Mark co taught, and introduced us, in 1988, to the complex understanding of the disease and how to manage clients with sensitivity. We took on our case with great gusto, and felt very much appreciated even though our administrative law hearing went incredibly slow and it was clear that this was our "first time". Like most of the cases it seemed in this clinic under the NY State or City of NY Human Rights Law, the defendants either settled or got socked with a judgment. We thank Colombia for providing such a moving experience that has impacted my client sensitivity. I currently work on development lending and investment in venture capital funds focused on early stage equity in Latin America, or microfinance banks in the same region, for the Inter-American Development Bank. Clients need to get to the crux of the matter, and this experience proved important in building that understanding.
I note that Philip Schrag is also on the list. My wife, Debora Benchoam, studied with Philip at Georgetown University Law Center and worked on disability discrimination in education, representation of youth in local jails, and international human rights issues related to mental disabilities. Professor Schrag and his teams were incredible at putting the students in the middle of the issues, taking real responsibilities. My wife has since worked over 15 years at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, and she zealously advocates for those in need of human rights protection with the fervor and ability that the clinical programs, in part, helped to instill.
After three years of excellent clinical participation (1970-1973), I spent 42 years working in the field of civil rights law reform litigation. I worked as staff attorney, Legal Directors and then Program Director with Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund in Washington, DC, then moved to Santa Fe where I served as Director of the Civil Division of the New Mexico Attorney General's Office under Tom Udall, and finally have spent 20 years in a private civil rights practice doing law reform litigation on behalf of disadvantaged and minority plaintiffs. My clinical training under George Cooper, Harriet Rabb, Michael Meltsner and Phil Schrag helped motivate me and provided the legal training for my life's work. I am indebted to these wonderful teachers.
When I was in the law school in my home country, I participated in a clinic for local residents' civil rights. It's more complicated than expected because I did not realize the issues in reality was
so sophisticated than in books. I not only practiced my legal knowledge, but also got improvement on the way by which I communicated with clients.
I was in the first class of the Child Advocacy Clinic in the fall of my 2L year. It was a saving grace of law school! We were in the old space, over the mysterious little store that sold soda and candy (now Big Warren). I stayed on throughout law school, getting credit for "Teaching Assistant," "independent research" and the like. As for its impact on my life? My first job after law school was in the Juvenile Rights Practice of Legal Aid. I then went on to become a clinical teacher, teaching in the Family Defense Clinic at NYU Law School (and attending many of Steve Ellmann's Clinical Theory Workshops). And I'm now back at CLS working with Social Justice Initiatives. Jane has been a career/life advisor throughout, and I have had the enormous pleasure of working with Philip Genty and Laurie Barron as colleagues when they were representing parents. I'd say my clinic experience had an impact!