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Teaching & Learning with the Legal Clinic Team: 3 Perspectives on the Domino Effect

The Legal Clinic is one of the programs at the Women's Center through which interns are mentored by members of our staff in social justice advocacy work on one of several themes. Several of our staff-intern teams have developed traditions for interns to take on a additional leadership within their teams over time and we love seeing how the investment they make in doing so pays off for them and for their teams. In her years with the Leval Clinic team, staff member Sarah Steele has found some ways to make the most of the experience for her interns, for the attorneys who volunteer their time, and for the members of the local community who make use of the clinic to become better informed about their options in confronting common legal challenges. 

Sarah Steele, Legal Clinic Supervisor

In order to ensure the Legal Clinic runs smoothly with each new year’s group of interns, I am always looking for the most effective and efficient ways to pass on all of the information previous interns and I have gathered. To that end I developed what I call a “domino effect” for teaching and learning about the operation of the clinic.  

For more than two decades, the Legal Clinic has served the community through providing free monthly legal consultation throughout fall and spring semesters. For most of that time the Legal Clinic’s blue print was: schedule attorneys, schedule clients, facilitate the free Legal Clinic. In the four years that I have been supervising the Legal Clinic, it has expanded to meet growing client demand, becoming a bi-weekly, year-round service which now includes special-topic legal clinics such as the Veterans Benefits clinic and the Transgender Name Change & Legal Marker clinic. These expanded services require more planning and provide more opportunities to teach and learn for our interns.  

We have two, or more, interns per academic year. Often there is one intern who works with the Legal Clinic year-round, summers included, and the other(s) serve during the fall and spring semesters. Summer provides a one-on-one opportunity for me to teach an intern how to market and operate the legal clinic at-large, as well as the Veterans Benefits clinic, in particular. Gaining extensive knowledge and experience in the summer, come fall, this intern helps me teach the new intern(s). The experienced intern takes the lead organizing and running the fall Veterans Benefits clinic, from which the other intern(s) learn(s). By spring, those interns are prepared to organize other events and special clinics. This domino effect has expanded the breadth of the internship experience, allowing students to teach, learn from, and guide one another, while the Legal Clinic simultaneously provides a continuous, well-run service for our clients.  

Hannah Lyons, Legal Clinic Intern

I had the opportunity to serve as the sole intern for the legal clinic over the summer, which meant that I had to organize and attend seven clinics. I learned the inner workings of the program by observing Sarah for the first few days, while gradually taking on responsibilities of my own. By the time the fall semester began, I was well-versed in running the clinics, so I was able to teach Victoria the same way that Sarah taught me. This “domino effect” style of instruction was especially useful for the Veterans Benefits Legal Clinic that we hold three times a year. Because this clinic focuses specifically on veterans and their disability claims, it takes a lot more coordination. We have to contact representatives at the law school, two attorneys at a law firm that specializes in veterans’ law, and clients. Over the summer, I shadowed Sarah as she performed these steps. In the fall, I coordinated the Veterans clinic on my own, while Victoria observed. By spring, Victoria could plan the clinic, completing the “domino effect.” 

Victoria Farris, Legal Clinic Intern

My experience at the Women’s Center Legal Clinic has taught me a lot about mentorship and the power of institutional knowledge in an organization. As an intern who only joined the team last fall, I learned so much from my co-intern, Hannah, who has been on the team since the summer. I reached out to Hannah many times with questions regarding particular logistical issues as well as broader-scope inquiries about the clinic in general. I also appreciate the horizontally-integrated structure of the legal clinic team. To me, this structure means that the ideas of everyone on the team are valued equally, whether they come from a first-time intern like myself or from Sarah who directs the team. I appreciate being able to have my voice heard and, more importantly, to learn from those who have more experience and knowledge than I do! 

Browse these pages to learn more about our internship program for UVA students or our Legal Clinic for the local community. 

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