March 2016 Law Offices Newsletter
LAW OFFICES NEWS
Have You Heard?
One of Chicago-Kent's newest experiential offerings is Intensive Clinic. You can spend one semester immersed in real-world law practice for 12 credit hours, working with one of Chicago-Kent's outstanding clinical professor/practitioners in areas such as criminal defense, civil litigation, family law, employment discrimination, tax, vaccine injury litigation, or entrepreneurial law. It also satisfies your seminar requirement, because you prepare a seminar paper in an area related to the actual practice in which you've been engaged.
This is a unique and valuable opportunity to jump-start your legal career with a full-time practice experience while in law school, without the distractions of other courses or exams, before you hit the job market.
With the recent new bar admission requirements in New York and California that require a substantial number of experiential credits in order to gain bar admission (a trend certain to continue across the United States), Chicago-Kent is once again out front in changing the way we think about legal education. Contact Tracy Kish in the Law Offices (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information about this exciting option.
What Is the Plaintiff's Employment Law Clinic?
By Professor Richard Gonzalez
I have operated the Plaintiff's Employment Law Clinic at Chicago-Kent for 27 years, and I believe that this area of law is ideally suited to providing a sound clinical experience for Chicago-Kent students. My colleague Jaz Park and our students handle employment-related cases including age, race, sex and disability discrimination; sexual and racial harassment; Family and Medical Leave Act cases; retaliatory discharge cases; wage and hour matters; and an entire array of employee-rights matters.
Some of my biggest thrills over the years have been the occasions when students participated in employment trials, sometimes examining witnesses in federal court jury trials. Our practice boasts a rate of trial victory, appellate victory and success in defeating motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment that I suspect rivals the very best success rates in all of the United States. Maybe more important, Jaz and the students and I counsel our employee clients and often engineer highly favorable out-of-court resolutions of their employment-related problems.
Students who enroll in the Plaintiff's Employment Law Clinic gain exposure to all aspects of the representation process, from initial case-selection decisions, drafting of pleadings and discovery, preparation and response to motions and briefs, and virtually all aspects of the litigation and ADR processes. And students in our clinic have an extraordinary amount of client contact. I believe that the clinical education experience works best when the students know and can relate to our actual clients. Rather than work on discrete legal issues that might keep students aloof from the actual representation process, we seek to immerse our students in the duties and responsibilities of a practicing attorney. The goal: both to provide the best possible legal service to our clients and to create practice-ready graduates who are self-assured, competent and attractive to potential employers.
Get to Know Professor Heather Harper
Q. You were able to establish a highly successful transactional practice at the Law Offices in a field where several before you had failed. What were the keys to your success?
A. I don't know if I have a particular key to success. I'm scrappy and determined, and I generally understand what people need and want. I was trained to be a thoughtful and responsive lawyer, which allows me to establish trust and rapport with my clients. I also frame every issue in business terms, so my clients come to see me as an advisor rather than someone who slows down their business. Do great work, be attentive, and passionately help people. It works every time.
Q. Your clinic section has been particularly popular with students who, in prior years, seemed more interested in litigation-oriented work. Why do you think your line of work is so attractive to students?
A. I think a lot of people come to law school to learn how to do business law. I certainly never intended to set foot in a courtroom when I went to law school, so I think my clinic appeals to students who want to practice in a transactional setting. I also think my clinic is appealing because it's intense, and startups are popular and exciting right now.
Q. What are the biggest problems facing startups that you are able to assist with?
A. Probably early mistakes with founders, intellectual property and structuring. I fix these problems every day, but it's often really hard to fix if founders fail to put a good agreement in place early on and then get into a dispute with one another.
Q. Why did you choose to do this type of practice inside a law school, rather than in a private practice?
A. It seemed interesting and fun. Plus, I tell my clients that I take an educational approach to law, explaining things to them as often first-time entrepreneurs. It seemed to fit.
Q. Apart from your legal abilities and teaching skills, just about everyone thinks you are one of the coolest people in the building. What's that all about?
A. Not sure. I see myself as a straight-shooter who likes to help people.
I'm writing this testimonial from my desk at work, which is about 100 feet from where I trained to be a mediator through Chicago-Kent's Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Clinic in the spring of 2014. The fact that my first job after graduating from law school is in this building feels very right to me, since the Mediation and ADR Clinic was one of the most formative experiences I had at Chicago-Kent.
At the start of the Mediation and ADR Clinic course, I joined my classmates in taking the 40-hour basic skills mediation training at the Center for Conflict Resolution. The hands-on curriculum was a refreshing break from sitting in lecture halls, trying to connect the material I was learning to ways of actually helping people navigate our legal system.
After the training, I began mediating small claims and landlord/tenant disputes in the Daley Center. It was thrilling to be able to have an immediate, direct impact on people. I loved uncovering the underlying needs and interests of parties and helping them find more creative solutions than the court system might be able to offer. Professor Pam Kentra was always there to lend insightful feedback and to situate what I was experiencing in the mediation room within a broader understanding of mediation and ADR theory. Through the clinic, I met people that I still consider mentors and colleagues.
Today, I work as director of foreclosure mediation for Resolution Systems Institute, a nationally recognized nonprofit working to accomplish a unique mission of strengthening justice by enhancing court ADR. My job is to oversee three foreclosure mediation programs in northern Illinois that give homeowners facing foreclosure a fair chance at keeping their homes.
My experience in the Mediation and ADR Clinic has given me the critical foundation that I need to understand why our mediation programs work, where they need to improve, and how we can continue to strengthen them. Just as important, my mediation education through the clinic has made me a better supervisor and employee, as I'm able to get to the heart of what is really driving the people I work with and for and to figure out how that works within our organizational goals. The clinic has helped me polish my communication skills so that I can navigate complex relationships with judges, court clerks, housing counselors, mediators and banks successfully.
Overall, the Mediation and ADR Clinic at Chicago-Kent both positioned and prepared me for my current job, and I highly recommend it.
When I think back to my Chicago-Kent educational experience, I fondly remember my two semesters spent with Professor Gonzalez at the legal clinic and how it shaped my time at the school. Although I found the classroom experience challenging, I have always been a "hands-on" or experiential learner and sought out an experience like the clinic to get practical legal experience.
Fortunately, I found that experience with Professor Gonzalez and the Plaintiff's Employment Clinic. The research and drafting assignments were not hypothetical cases—they were needed components for real cases and actual clients. During my time with the clinic, I was able to participate in a federal court jury trial, an amazing experience that was unparalleled during my time at Chicago-Kent. Professor Gonzalez treated us not as students, but as junior colleagues and adults.
I eventually went on to become a corporate attorney and then an attorney for an Illinois governor and senior staff member for the Illinois state treasurer; however, I strongly considered becoming a plaintiff's-side employment lawyer because of my experience with Professor Gonzalez and the clinic. Today I am an executive with an insurance company, and among other responsibilities, I am always mindful of the personnel matters of our company, a lesson of practical experience that I have carried with me since my clinic days at the school.