Thursday July 15, 2010

Law Clinic Shows Students Preparation is the Key

Dayton Law students spend hours during their third year of law school honing their lawyering skills in the Law Clinic, where they work with real clients on real cases.

Dayton Law students spend hours during their third year of law school honing their lawyering skills in the Law Clinic, where they work with real clients on real cases. While many cases end in a plea bargain, those that do go to trial provide students with invaluable experience. Last semester, one trial handled by law clinic students went to trial, and resulted in an acquittal for the students' client.

The case was handled by Nathan Stuckey and Andy Sigmon, both of whom graduated in May 2010. The trial, in Dayton Municipal Court, involved an aggravated menacing charge, a first-degree misdemeanor in Ohio. It was the first trial for Sigmon and Stuckey.

Criminal law clinic professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister said about one Law Clinic case goes to trial each semester. "Both Nate and Andy performed very well in their first trial and met the client's goals," Hoffmeister said. "This was due primarily to the fact that they put in numerous hours of practice. The clinic is very labor intensive. All of the clinic students worked together to make sure that Nate and Andy were ready and prepared."

The students spent two months preparing for the trial, which last about three hours. They strategized an effective plan for the trial, spoke to their client constantly and walked through the questions that would be asked of every witness.

"We had all of our colleagues in the clinic assisting us in preparation," said Sigmon, who highlighted the contributions of classmates Alex Fernandez, Trinity Car and Tyler Cantrell, as well as Hoffmeister.

"The preparation we put in paid off because there was nothing that we weren't prepared for" at trial, said Stuckey, who is now working at Behnke, Martin and Schulte of Dayton.

Stuckey and Sigmon said the clinic taught them how important it is to be prepared for trial. "Preparation is the key to success," Stuckey said. "Without proper preparation you're lost. It showed at trial."

"Throughout our time in the clinic, we observed several different proceedings in several different courts," said Sigmon, who is moving to the Washington, D.C., area, where he hopes to work in government or politics. "Each court has its own dynamic, and each proceeding has its own individual subject matter. The one constant throughout all of them is that the winning team is always prepared."

Dayton Law requires every third-year student to undertake a capstone experience in the form of a small-enrollment, four-hour clinical or capstone course, which helps students transition from a theoretical to a practical understanding of a practice area. Students taking the Law Clinic assume the responsibility of representing real clients in a variety of matters under the supervision of professors. Students work under a licensed attorney handling actual cases in areas such as criminal law, community lawyering and juvenile law.

The other full-time professor teaching in the clinic is Andrea Seielstad, who has developed a focus on juvenile issues. She's also active in the Clinical Legal Education Association and regularly presents on online mediation, the use of technology in education and clinical teaching.

"The students really enjoy the clinic because it is unlike any other law school course," Hoffmeister said. "Here, you deal with live clients facing pending criminal charges. The students' actions have real world consequences. Many clinic students have told me that they worked harder in the clinic than any other class because they knew their work not only impacted their grade, but also more importantly, someone else's life."

Sigmon said the clinic offers students the best opportunity for real-life experience in the practice of law. "We meet with our own clients, investigate all the facts, strategize and implement a plan," he said. "The benefit that comes from the clinic as a whole, and not just a victory at trial, is one that will give us all a head start on litigation practice."

For more information, contact Bob Mihalek at 937-229-4683.

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