Engaged Experiences Essential to the Learning Process at C|M|LAW

Posted 2013-02-26 12:33pm

Watch Director of Engaged Learning Carole O. Heyward and 3L students Zack Graham, Natalie Harper and Frankie Sequeira further discuss the externship and clinical programs at C|M|LAW.

A baseball player would not step to the plate without practicing beforehand nor would a pianist step on stage before crafting their skills behind the scenes.  The same concept holds true for the legal profession and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law recognizes the importance of getting students real world experience.

“In today’s job market, students need to be able to show excellence beyond the classroom to set themselves apart,” said C|M|LAW Dean Craig M. Boise.  “At Cleveland-Marshall we recognize this and focus on giving our students every opportunity to get the practical training which will allow them to step into post-graduate positions and thrive immediately.”

C|M|LAW is at the forefront of engaging students to be active participants in the legal community.  The environment and culture emphasize practical experience to prepare students for post-graduation opportunities and that focus extends from the faculty and staff to the students themselves.

“Cleveland-Marshall really pushes its students to get experiential learning,” explained Natalie Harper, a current 3L at C|M|LAW who has worked in the Fair Housing Clinic and has served as an extern with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S Coast Guard and U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The focus is not just going to class and keeping your head in a book but really getting out there and getting as much practical experience as you can while you’re in school, enough so you’re prepared for going out into the real world and knowing what to expect.”

A Foundation of Engagement:

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law was one of the first law schools in the country to stress the importance of experiential learning and that early and continued emphasis still pays dividends today.   C|M|LAW’s emphasis on engaged learning dates back over 40 years when its first clinic was established. Opportunities for engaged learning have been expanded in recent years to accommodate growing demand. Currently 80-90 students per year engage in a clinic or externship and many participate in more than one clinic or externship during their studies.  

“Cleveland-Marshall has long valued experiential learning,” said Carole O. Heyward, Director of Engaged Learning at C|M|LAW.  “We understand and recognize the importance of having students learn in context. While they learn doctrinal law in the classroom, it’s really important for students to learn how to apply that law in real world settings with real world clients. It’s a very different skill that students need to master to be successful.

The number of students involved in these programs grows every year because students recognize the importance of it,” Heyward continued.  “When students learn how to practice in clinics or externships and can hit the ground running when they graduate, it’s helpful to both the legal community and the student.”

Externships are one such avenue for engaged learning and provide students the opportunity to learn the law outside of the classroom by providing advice and counsel or other legal services in a judicial, government, public interest or corporate setting.  Students work in settings where they contribute to the ongoing work of an office by working closely with a supervising attorney or judge.  Judicial placements have included the U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court, Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals. Students have also externed with a wide variety of government and public interest organizations including the City of Cleveland Law Department, Cuyahoga County Public Defender's Office, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights and U.S. Department of Justice.  The program has recently expanded to include general counsel offices and C|M|LAW students have assisted organizations including the Cleveland Clinic, Forest City Enterprises, Medical Mutual of Ohio, Parker Hannifin, SPIRE Institute and University Hospital.

“Initially I was reluctant to do an externship because there are jobs out there and I was used to having to work for a living before I went to law school,” remarked Zach Graham, a C|M|LAW 3L who externed for Northern District of Ohio Judge David D. Dowd and is currently externing with Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, focusing on intellectual property.  “However, getting the opportunity to work in a judge’s chamber alongside the clerk and the judge is a pretty rare opportunity and it afforded me some great experience that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.”

In C|M|LAW clinics, students serve the community and learn lawyering skills while working with individual and organizational with a variety of real legal issues. Under the close supervision of experienced attorneys and professors, students are tasked with counseling, performing transactional work and bringing litigation in one of several specialized clinics: Civil Litigation, Community Advocacy Law, Environmental Law, Fair Housing Law, and Transactional Law.

Win-Win Relationships:

Having established relationships with such a broad range of organizations and through clinical programs, faculty and the Office of Career Planning are able to work closely with students and employers to find opportunities which best match the student’s interests and allow them to explore their potential career path.

“We all read things and want to practice in a certain area but until you see it firsthand I don’t think you really know.  Working these externships let me know this was definitely what I want to do” explained Francesla Sequeira, a 3L C|M|LAW student who has served as an extern with the U.S. Department of Justice, Ohio Supreme Court and the Office of the Federal Public Defender.  Sequeira will join the Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. upon graduation and passing the bar exam.

The expectation is that the experience is more for the benefit of the extern than the employer. That is not say that employers do not benefit from the expertise and fresh ideas that C|M|LAW students bring to their organizations.

“It’s a win-win relationship for the externship site and the student,” noted Heyward.  “We get terrific feedback about our students.  Externship sites get to have a student who works with their staff and attorneys and creates a quality work product.”

With real-world experience comes real world success stories: A moment of gratitude between law clinic student Amy Assef and a client outside an area courthouse.

“We’ve had some super standout Cleveland-Marshall externs,” remarked Lynne H. Buck, Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Northeast District of Ohio and supervisor of past and current C|M|LAW externs.  “We’re able to use externs for real case assignments.  They are often times used as an associate or junior lawyer would be.”

Students are not paid for their work in the clinics or outside externships but receive academic credit for their time spent in the field. That credit received is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits.  Through the clinics, students have the opportunity to help community members who are in need of legal assistance and might not otherwise have access to such services.

“It’s very rewarding being able to help someone who might not otherwise be able to get assistance,” explained Harper about her work in the Fair Housing Law Clinic.  “It really helped me hone my skills with not just the legal aspects but the ability to work with clients with all different kinds of backgrounds.”

Engagement Today, Employment Tomorrow:

The engaged learning opportunities also serve as practical learning for students as they further explore career options and learn what real day-to-day work environments and expectations are like.  At the U.S Attorney’s Office, Buck makes sure externs are able to take away a wide-ranging learning experience.  Her externs are exposed to a speaker series where they get to learn about the backgrounds of different U.S. Attorneys.  They are also encouraged to ask questions and take ownership of their work as they handle research and writing assignments for actual cases. 

That level of real world training is vital for students to gain a leg up on the competition as they enter into today’s competitive job market.  In dealing with employers, the Office of Career Planning has found that an engaged student with a diverse resume can really capture an employer’s attention.

“Having zero law experience is hugely detrimental in today’s dynamic job market,” said Jennifer Blaga, Director of Career Services at Cleveland-Marshall. “With externships, students build their resume in environments which are often times very difficult to get into as a law student or recent graduate. Students can make enough of an impact to where people will go to bat for them in environments where there are entry-level jobs.  It builds a network of people who know a lot of people and students can leverage their network long after their externship.”   

This concept does not just apply at the individual level but for the College as a whole. Whether working with C|M|LAW students in a clinic or in an externship, law professionals and community members throughout Northeast Ohio have taken notice of the dedication of C|M|LAW students and their ability to transfer classroom knowledge into the workplace.

“The feedback from employers is consistently outstanding,” recalled Blaga.   “Every year I’m told our students stand out because they jump in and know more going in the door and that’s there’s less of a learning curve than with students from other law schools.”

 “We take pride in the quality of student Cleveland-Marshall sends out into these work environments to make sure our students leave an outstanding impression on employers and the community,” said Dean Boise.  “When folks see the high level of work our students achieve while still in school, they realize just how valuable it is to continue to work with Cleveland-Marshall students and graduates.”


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