Bar News - April 20, 2007
Webster Scholars: Learning the Ropes Hands-on at LARC
By: Beverly Rorick
For the last several weeks, 14 first-year Daniel Webster Scholars have been receiving specialized training at the Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC) in Concord as part of an honors project. The Webster Scholars are a select group of students at Franklin Pierce Law Center (FPLC) engaged in a program that has been called a two-year bar exam.
“This is a follow-up—and natural outgrowth—of a component in family law, which the students take in preparation for doing actual hands-on work at LARC,” said Marilyn McNamara, director of LARC. McNamara taught the 10-hour family law course at FPLC. No textbook was used, but many statutes and cases vital to an understanding of family law were required reading. Written assignments based on the reading materials and on class discussion gave the students the chance to put in writing the things they had learned—a very important step in legal counseling. A sample assignment: “An adoption fact-pattern will be provided at the end of this class, together with a short-answer quiz.” The quiz then included an exercise in providing legal service to adoptive parents, in spotting potential trouble spots and in providing an analysis of an aspect of the adoption law.
Subjects covered in the course (to name a few) ranged from ethics in family law to treatment for dysfunctional families and juvenile offenders to the dissolution of marriage and the resulting parenting responsibilities. Since the practicum to follow the classes would involve only questions of family law, the topics were of vital importance.
Two hours of training in interviewing clients and spotting issues preceded the students’ phone contact with the public. Then each student spent 10 hours of actual work at LARC. “This has been the first year that we have tried this—and we hope to refine the process for next year,” continued McNamara. (The second class of Webster Scholars will be sworn in at the Supreme Court on April 17.) “We found the students to be sincere and thoughtful—and conscientious in all their efforts.”
During the program, LARC staff screened calls and then gave the call-backs to the Scholars. After speaking with clients, students consulted with staff members before suggesting any solutions; either putting clients on hold or promising another call-back. Client files were already in the computer system and these files were open to the students as they spoke with clients. Students also made entries into the client files as their conversations progressed.
“These students are uniformly bright—and a delight to have around,” said Tom Fredenburg, staff attorney at LARC. “This project hasn’t cut into our productivity at all. If anything, it has increased it. The students wound up providing a total of 140 hours of free service to our clients, which was a great help.”
LARC has many kinds of instructive forms which can be mailed to clients after telephone consults. The students learned which of these would be most helpful in each case and were responsible for getting them into the mail following their discussions with staff members. They also kept in touch with staff members by e-mail with questions and comments—and their e-mails were promptly responded to by staff as part of the learning process.
“In addition, we went into the computer files and looked at their notes on clients and offered suggestions and comments,” said McNamara. “We wanted the students to develop strong interviewing skills and become adept at spotting the key issues and at legal counseling,” she added. “We hoped some of them would want to volunteer at LARC even after the 10-hour requirement was met.” McNamara said the students had contacted over 100 clients during their time at LARC.
Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program Director John Garvey was very pleased with the LARC experience. He said, “In addition to getting real client contact, the Webster Scholars are being introduced to the importance of doing pro bono work as responsible members of the legal community—and feeling the satisfaction that comes from that experience.”