STCL Houston offers hands-on legal clinics
Getting hands-on experience from a wide range of cases is how South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL) leads the state in practical training for law students.
Its Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics are enabling students to thrive in law firm, corporate, government solo practice or pro bono settings immediately following graduation.
STCL’s clinics not only provide legal services to individuals and families with 19 direct, specialized clinics, they also bring essential classroom instruction to life for future lawyers through this 14-week-semester endeavor.
The clinics are under the direction of STCL Houston faculty and staff attorneys as students interact directly with the clinics’ clients. With exposure to cutting-edge legal issues, students hone their interviewing, transactional and advocacy skills beginning in their second year of law school.
Catherine Greene Burnett, vice president, associate dean and professor of law at STCL, said students gain incredible insight.
“It’s real stories; real life. No matter how brilliantly you create a simulation, the empathy factor is missing. It’s critical. Some interview, and some join cases further along. There are all stages of life in a case here,” she said.
Assisting the community in their moment of need is part of the clinic’s purpose.
Over the past year, approximately 270 STCL students contributed more than 35,600 hours of direct client service in these clinics, equating to nearly $1.8 million of pro bono legal representation for Houstonians in need.
The Civil Practice Clinics’ clients alone received more than $1,233,000 in benefits in the last academic year.
Various legal services are provided for clients, who are not charged for reaching out. In many cases, court fees are waived as well. Income-eligibility caps vary by clinics, and most clinics require clients to reside in the greater Houston area.
Clinics range from transactional topics covering trademarks and patents to civil practice areas with child welfare, estate planning, family law, guardianship, probate and veterans. There are also special focus and mediation clinics.
“It’s not just an interview. It’s also counseling. Part of what happens is they talk with their classmates and attorneys to develop strategies. They give the clients the power to decide if they want to go forward. It’s experience with real clients,” Burnett said.
STCL received a nearly $1.3 million gift to launch a criminal defense certification program that, in conjunction with its criminal process clinic, will develop well-prepared defense attorneys to represent indigent criminal defendants.
Feedback from the students has been very positive.
“Most often, it’s a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride,” Burnett said. “Some come back and volunteer to work. They learn better by doing and seeing for themselves. It’s like being in a law firm. We have cases all year round.”