When U.Va. government and foreign affairs student Amanda Swanson was a second-year, she went from competing in the Virginia Mock Trial to interacting with lawyers at the Women’s Center as a Legal Clinic intern. With her recent graduation, she is now applying the knowledge she gained in these experiences to the job she will begin in June as a litigation assistant at the MoloLamken law firm in Washington D.C.

“I think it was something that was valuable […] to be a part of because in mock trial, we were working with fake cases–the Legal Clinic gave us a chance to use some of what we learned to have a real positive impact on our community,” Swanson said.

The monthly clinic aims to provide professional legal advice to any male or female Charlottesville resident or University faculty and staff member, while students utilize separate legal counsel on Grounds. A majority of clients seek advice regarding family law (e.g. divorce, family custody, wills and estates) or in property law (e.g. landlord-tenant disputes).

Click here to see more information about the summer Legal Clinics.

For the first time, the Legal Clinic at the Women’s Center is now available through the entire calendar year, not just during the school year, due to additional available lawyers and the employment of a summer intern.

“To be able to provide assistance year-round and not have to turn people away or ask them to wait for months at a time is huge,” Swanson said. “It translates to very real consequences for how quickly people are able to resolve conflicts that are occupying a tremendous amount of time and worry for them.”

At the start of 2013 fall semester, Legal Clinic Supervisor Sarah Adams encouraged Swanson and the other interns to expand the database of lawyers by researching local legal services, writing to lawyers and following up with phone calls to spark interest. A major part of the Legal Clinic internship is the “stewardship of the lawyers” so the interns learned how to not only recruit the lawyers but also how to maintain connections through thank-you notes and continual communication.

“I think the best attorneys we’ve worked with have made it clear how important it is to meet people where they are,” Swanson said. “When you’re facing a legal problem of any kind, it can be incredibly intimidating, and to have someone who is able to sit with you, let you guide the conversation to answer the most important questions to you, and give you a road map to what the next step might be–it’s hard to overstate how meaningful that can be.”

On the client side, Adams and the interns worked closely with Chuck Moran, Marketing Communications Manager for the Women’s Center, with creating new advertising like flyers and bus inserts, as well as increasing outreach. Interns posted flyers in places within the city such as the Shelter for Help and Emergency, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, the Women’s Initiative and within public libraries.

In the course of rebuilding and re-organizing this program in the past couple of years, Adams said she “quickly learned that supervising interns paralleled teaching in a significant way […]”  Prior to working at the Women’s Center, Adams taught Russian in the U.S. and English in Russia to a range of ages from children to adult. Adams is also a U.Va. undergraduate and graduate alumna, and her first experience in front of the classroom was as a T.A. here.

“[…] At the Women’s Center, part of the role of a supervisor is to share one’s knowledge of the skills required to run a certain program and provide guidance while our interns are acquiring that knowledge.  I always loved that about teaching and am so happy I can continue in that role with our Legal Clinic interns each year.”

With more structure including monthly meetings and increased involvement and guidance in creating effective lawyer-client relationships, Swanson attributed Adams as the “support and structure [that] has been crucial in helping us expand our opportunities this year.”

Through the Legal Clinic, Adams hopes that the undergraduate student interns ultimately gain insight into the legal process, as well as learn how to interact with potential clients dealing with sensitive situations, how to maintain stewardship with lawyers and how to best advertise services.

“Most of all, I hope that I can impart just a little bit of my passion to them for helping others and hope that they finish their experience with the Legal Clinic taking away the gratification and deep happiness that can come from that, “ Adams highlighted.

By Agnes Filipowski