Lawyers for America: Q&A with Professors Marsha Cohen and David Faigman
By David Faigman, University of California Hastings College of the Law
UC Hastings has launched an exciting new program, Lawyers for America, offering two-year fellowships for select law students with government and nonprofit legal services organizations. Participating students will gain valuable and sustained legal work experience, making them more competitive in a tight legal job market. At the same time, Lawyers for America (LFA) Fellows will increase availability of legal services for those who cannot afford lawyers and provide support to participating agencies and organizations that are often under-resourced.
Interested students will be chosen during their second year of law school and begin their fellowship in the third year, taking the place of regular coursework. Fellows will continue in their placements (following a break for the bar) for their first year as new attorneys. The first class of Fellows will be from UC Hastings but the program will become available in 2013 to students of other participating law schools throughout the country.
Program directors and founders Marsha Cohen and David Faigman provide more detail on the program in response to the following questions.
How did Lawyers for America come about?
David proposed the idea that UC Hastings create a two-year post-graduate fellowship program to help plug the justice gap while providing practical training for new lawyers. A funding mechanism was the immediate obstacle. The insight to begin this training program as a full-year externship―moving it back a year, and making it the student’s third year of law school―and connect it to a paid one-year post-bar fellowship led to the funding mechanism.
How does this program differ from other law fellowships?
Unlike the excellent fellowship programs already in place, Lawyers for America is not dependent upon philanthropy. Philanthropy is wonderful but the dollars available are limited. Instead, participating work sites that benefit from the Fellows pay for them. However, the cost of a two-year arc of one Fellow (as a full-time third year extern for nine months and then as a full-time post-bar attorney for a year) will be approximately half the fully-allocated cost of hiring a single first-year lawyer in that community. Sites will thus benefit from some reduced-cost, yet effective, staffing, although they will need to commit to be fully engaged in the supervision of the Fellows in tandem with faculty members during the Fellows’ 3L year. Our expectation is that budgeting for Fellows will enable both nonprofits and government agencies to expand their resources, and thus the services they can provide to help fill the unmet need for lawyers.
How might participation in the program benefit students planning careers in both the public and private sectors?
Students working in any legal setting for the sustained period of the fellowship will, by the end, have developed a wide range of professional skills, from the specific (such as how to take a deposition or how to interview a client) to the more general (such as interacting effectively with one’s supervisors, learning to keep track of deadlines and control one’s workload, and dealing with the inevitable problems of “real world” practice, including ethical quandaries). These skills will transfer to any legal job a Fellow takes at the end of the fellowship, whatever the sector of the legal community. We think all those who hire lawyers―including at the “high end” of the private law firm market―will value highly the experience that Fellows will bring to their new positions.
What factors should students consider in deciding whether to apply to the LFA program?
Most critically, students must consider their interest in Lawyers for America at the end of their first year of law school, so they can select their second-year courses with an entirely experiential third year in mind. Some law schools might wish to select “candidate Fellows” at the end of first year, to more easily counsel these students about their course selection and help them register for needed classes.
Overall, students will need to consider the sites participating in their law school’s program, and whether their work matches or supports their career and professional development goals. They need to think about how much exploration of different fields they want or need to do during their law school years. They must also consider their own learning style and preferences. Some students will want to take every bar-tested course before they do bar study, while others will not suffer excessive stress from having to learn a course or two during bar prep. They will also have to consider their willingness to commit their first post-graduate year to the site where they will work as a 3L extern, at the reduced rate of pay of a Fellow.
Will students accepted into the program have a say in where they are placed?
Each law school will design its selection process in line with its preferences, and those of its participant work sites. It is likely that students interviewing in the winter or spring of their 2L year with the participant work sites will express their preferences, and that work sites will make offers to the prospective Fellows, some of whom may have more choices than others.
What will the selection process be and how can students enhance their chances of being offered a LFA fellowship?
Each law school will be responsible for finding participating work sites, and creating its own selection process. It is expected that faculty will create a selection process with the cooperation of their partner work sites, and that the process will vary in accordance with each law school’s goals and values. One likely commonality in all selection processes will be consideration of the student’s ability to be successful in the workplace beginning as a 3L, and to learn from this large component of practical experience.
What advice do you have regarding course planning for students who apply for a LFA fellowship?
Whether or not law students are thinking of an opportunity like Lawyers for America, they should be carefully considering their goals during law school, and how to reach them. When legal jobs were easily available to virtually all law graduates, one’s degree, not one’s preparation, was what counted. But there is a new world in which law graduates will find themselves. Their three years of law school are a precious commodity: how do they want to spend them? At UC Hastings we are trying to guide our students to do that thinking before second year, and trust other law schools are doing the same.
We held a course planning meeting at UC Hastings before the beginning of this academic year directed not just to students interested in our pilot LFA class but to everyone who hopes to spend the 3L year taking full advantage of UC Hastings’ robust clinic and externship opportunities. We focused the students on our faculty’s list of highly-recommended courses and on bar courses not included in that list. In addition, we urged students to select that course or two about which they are curious because some students arrive certain they want to be, for example, criminal lawyers, but then fall in love with something entirely different during their studies, for example, tax or patent law. Some students who are focused on being selected as Lawyers for America Fellows inevitably will decide that they want to take specialized courses in their third year instead.
If a 1L student is interested in becoming a LFA Fellow, what can she do to help facilitate her school’s participation?
Make sure the school’s deans or clinical program directors are aware of Lawyers for America, and of student interest in it. Spreading the word to government legal offices and nonprofits in their community is also helpful: the law school will need partners to participate. After we told UC Hastings students about the program in an email, the very first contact we had was with a nonprofit which had missed our outreach last year, and whose summer intern had shown her supervisor the email announcement.
Where can interested students get more information about the program?
We have information on our website: www.uchastings.edu/lawyersforamerica.
Any other comments?
Law schools have been providing excellent experiential opportunities to law students, particularly clinics and externships, for many years now. The “gold standard,” most clinicians would likely agree, is an in-house clinic in which students have direct responsibility for a client matter under the supervision of a professor who is also the attorney of record. While students benefit greatly from the low student/faculty ratio and the carefully chosen lawyering experience, these programs are resource-intensive, costly, and impractical or impossible in some fields. Many clinical experiences take place within the space of a single semester, limiting the ability to follow legal matters over time, the opportunity for repetition, and the incentive in externship settings to spend the time needed to train learners.
The Lawyers for America model provides for a lengthy learning arc during which trainees can participate fully in multiple legal matters. Participating work sites have the best of incentives to invest their time and effort in their new trainees: they are paying the cost of the trainees’ fellowship and the Fellows will be their colleagues for more than enough time to return, with interest, the investment their supervising attorneys make in them.
Some Lawyers for America Fellows inevitably will be offered jobs at their work sites. Others may choose to enter private practice. Wherever they work after their fellowship, they will have developed an appreciation of the work done by public interest and government attorneys, and of the continuing needs in these segments of the legal profession. We are hopeful that, wherever they spend their careers, their fellowship years will lead them to engage in pro bono work as well as be advocates for the needs of government attorneys and public interest legal service providers.
Professor Marsha N. Cohen, founding executive director of LFA and a long-time UC Hastings faculty member, has primarily taught food and drug law, torts, and administrative law, and for many years supervised the law school’s large judicial externship program. Her interest in clinical legal education and her early public interest law practice background (as an attorney for Consumers Union) combined to excite her about the potential of Lawyers for America.
David Faigman, John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science & Health Policy, teaches Constitutional Law courses and Scientific Methods for Lawyers, and is the author of a number of books, including a co-author of the five-volume treatise Modern Scientific Evidence: The Law and Science of Expert Testimony (2008). His observation of changes in the legal market and concern for appropriate student training led him to encourage the development of a fellowship program that has become Lawyers for America.
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