Skills, Experience, and other Reflections on Student Involvement in the Clinics

Kimberly Rhoten ‘13
November 22, 2013

Real world experience: a phrase we all too often use but rarely invest in. As young lawyers, fresh out of law school, many of us know the “law” solely through our theoretical pedagogical class discussions regarding person-less plaintiffs and imaginary defendants. Thanks to The University of Chicago Law School’s clinical opportunities, students can receive training in both law in theory, and more importantly, law in the real world. As a law student, I participated in several of the school’s legal clinics (Mental Health Advocacy, Domestic Violence Project and the International Human Rights Clinic). My experiences in clinical legal aid and education not only gave me the tools to become a good legal academic (legal research and writing) but also the experiences needed to become a good advocate (interpersonal skills, client exposure and court-room experience).

As a participant of the International Human Rights Clinic, I learned to navigate two very separate legal realities: (1) arguing before an immigration courtroom and (2) interviewing sex workers in an Indian brothel.  As a clinic participant I assisted in the representation of a pro-bono immigration client in his request for Convention Against Torture relief from the United States Government. After helping to draft a legal brief for our client, myself and another law student represented him in Immigration Court. I sat before a judge and interviewed my chief witness (my client). I learned valuable lessons concerning the practices of the U.S. Immigration court system and developed several lawyering skills including: how to craft effective argument styles, how to prepare for a court hearing, and most importantly, how to think on my feet in response to the judge and opposing counsel. In my second project for the Clinic, I gathered interview data on the tangible inter-relationship between human trafficking, migration and sex work within Sonagachi, Kolkata. As a clinic student, I traveled to Kolkata, India to interview sex workers, politicians and other key stakeholders regarding the legal and social issues facing sex workers and human trafficking victims in India. From this experience, I learned how to format interview questions. Most importantly, however, I walked away from my time in Sonagachi with real world experiences. No longer were the sex workers I had read statistics about merely a number; they were people.

These skills I have taken with me both metaphorically and literally, to India. Today, I am a Research Fellow at the Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology at Jindal Global Law School in Sonipat, India. As a Research Fellow, I work on cutting edge issues in the areas of gender, sexuality, health and the law. Currently, I co-teach the Centre’s first-ever clinical course on the Rights of Transgender Persons. My teaching has been greatly impacted by the experiences and skills I developed with The University of Chicago Law School’s clinics. In addition, my upcoming interview-based research in Nepal on the legal rights of gender non-conforming persons will undoubtedly be informed by the interview training and guidance I received from the International Human Rights Clinic. The work I do has been greatly enhanced by the real world experiences I received from my clinical education at The University of Chicago Law School.