One of the most significant opportunities afforded by a law school education at W&L is its legal clinics. Third-year students help to meet the need for legal assistance in the region and, at the same time, develop client contact and advocacy skills. The faculty have developed programs that deliver lawyering up close: tough lessons and real-life decisions that the profession deals with every day.
Enrollment in an in-house clinic or approved externship course satisfies the "actual practice" requirement of the Washington and Lee University School of Law third-year curriculum.
This clinic represents physically disabled coal miners and their widows under the federal “Black Lung” benefits program. Students are responsible for their clients through every step in the process from the time the client is retained until a final decision is made either awarding or denying benefits. You will be involved in contacting your client; developing medical evidence; preparing motions, discovery papers; representing your client at hearing; writing closing arguments and other legal papers; deposing expert witnesses; and preparing appeals to either the Benefits Review Board or the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. As part of the classroom element of the clinic, students will participate in weekly oral and trial advocacy exercises along with receiving instruction in the substantive law of black lung litigation.
The Immigrant Rights Clinic will collaborate with immigrant rights organizations to provide much needed legal representation to non-citizens in Virginia, and in some cases on the national level. Students will receive case assignments referred from Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition and other organizations, and work in teams on applications for affirmative relief from immigration agencies or courtroom-based advocacy for clients in proceedings before immigration court. Participation in the clinic will also include travel to Farmville-ICE immigration detention facility to support the work of the CAIR Coalition in making know-your-rights presentations and performing intakes.
Students in the Immigrant Rights Clinic will be the primary case-handlers, and will engage in client interviewing, case theory development, legal research and fact investigation, client counseling, case planning and strategy, and will interact with government counsel. Students assigned to represent clients in removal proceedings will also prepare motions and briefs, and conduct hearings at the immigration court in Arlington, which will include the preparation and examination of witnesses and the presentation of oral arguments. Weekly supervision sessions will provide student teams the opportunity to lead discussions about their cases with the professor. A classroom component will focus on lawyering skills, substantive law, and group discussions of student casework.
Students are not required to have studied immigration law or to speak a foreign language, but such background and ability are considered desirable. Students can enroll for either the fall or spring semester, though a small number of students enrolled in the fall may have the option to continue supervised casework in the spring.
Students in the Community Legal Practice Center (“CLPC”) represent lower income Rockbridge area residents in a general practice law firm setting. In the clinic, students assist their clients with the entire range of civil legal concerns they present. Students are responsible for their clients from the initial intake interview until the client’s issues are resolved. Students conduct all client interviews, participate in intake decisions, develop case strategies, draft documents including wills and powers of attorney, prepare all correspondence and court papers, interface with opposing counsel, engage in settlement negotiations, and conduct trials and evidentiary hearings on behalf of their clients.
Students are exposed to a wide variety of substantive legal issues - - for example, in the current academic year the clinic has handled cases involving adverse possession, breach of contract, fraud, defamation and social security disability, and has counseled clients on landlord-tenant issues and developing a non-profit entity. However, students should expect that the concerns of the clinic’s client base will result in at least some focus on family law (including child custody, adoption, and adult guardianship) and end of life planning issues. In addition to their client work, students will spend time in a group setting engaged in case rounds, reflective exercises and skills development. Depending upon the students’ level of knowledge in these areas, students will also meet with Professor Belmont in a more traditional classroom setting for substantive modules on Law Practice Management, Virginia Civil Practice and Procedure, Family Law, Basic Wills and End of Life Planning, Basic Consumer Law, Landlord-Tenant Law and Elder Law.
Students in the Criminal Justice Clinic represent indigent people facing criminal charges in local trial courts. Each student assumes responsibility for all aspects of several different criminal cases throughout the year, including fact investigation, legal research, client counseling, and all court appearances, including trials, pleas, and sentencing hearings. Students have primary professional responsibility for each of their cases, from appointment by the judge until trial or sentencing. Typical of some of the types of cases that clinic students handle are assault, larceny, possession of marijuana, DUI, and destruction of property.
CJC students are assigned criminal cases in Rockbridge County and surrounding counties, including occasionally in Roanoke and Staunton. Students are individually responsible for all facets of the representation of their clients, including client interviewing and counseling; making arguments on bail and conditions of release; developing a theory of the case; factual investigation; legal research; drafting motions or other submissions to the court; discovery litigation; pre-trial motions practice; plea negotiations; trial advocacy; and sentencing advocacy. In addition, a classroom component of the clinic allows students to learn substantive criminal law and procedure, develop their trial advocacy skills, and explore ethical dilemmas that prosecutors and defense lawyers face.
Through the Tax Clinic, students represent income-eligible taxpayers who have post-filing controversies with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and/or the Virginia Department of Taxation. In addition, students serve the broader public interest by undertaking advocacy projects to either: 1) educate the community on the tax issues that arise in our clinic; or 2) recommend administrative reforms on issues of concern to low-income taxpayers.
Typical cases might include representing a taxpayer who is under audit, appealing an audit, challenging an assessment, navigating collection issues, or requesting “innocent spouse” relief. In certain cases in which the taxpayer has not succeeded in resolving the problems with the IRS, the clinic might pursue litigation in the U.S. Tax Court. The Tax Clinic does not engage in routine or current year tax return preparation; however, in some cases students must prepare returns for past years as part of the controversy representation.
In the Tax Clinic, students are responsible for all aspects of the representation including case intake, client interviews, research and development of case strategy, and representation before the IRS, the Virginia Department of Taxation, and/or the U.S. Tax Court.
The Tax Clinic includes a classroom component during which the students learn about tax procedure and ethical issues specific to tax practice. The classroom component also includes case rounds, reflective exercises, and tax policy discussions.
The Tax Clinic experience is largely centered on administrative law and practice, with a heavy emphasis on client counseling and non-courtroom advocacy. Students looking for a courtroom experience should be aware that while the Tax Clinic does occasionally file a petition with the U.S. Tax Court, these cases very rarely go to trial. In lieu of a trial experience, students may have the opportunity to negotiate a settlement with IRS Counsel.
The Tax Clinic is open only to students who will have completed the Federal Income Taxation of Individuals course prior to the semester that the student enrolls in the clinic.
Since 1988, the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse (VC3) has served as Virginia’s litigation resource center for lawyers representing defendants facing the death penalty at trial in both state and federal courts. VC3 students work in two-member teams to assist court-appointed defense counsel with legal research, discovery analysis, drafting of motions and legal memoranda, client counseling, and many other tasks involved in defending death penalty cases at trial. Students also assist with appeals at the state, federal and U.S. Supreme Court stages, and in state and federal legislative research. The clinic maintains www.vc3.org, the comprehensive on-line resource for Virginia’s death penalty defense bar. In addition, clinic members undertake original research and writing projects for inclusion on the Clearinghouse website. In recent years VC3 students have, among many other projects:
- assisted a Marine Corps JAG defense team in a capital court-martial;
- helped counsel clients regarding life-saving plea bargains;
- drafted certiorari petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court concerning unsettled constitutional issues in capital punishment law;
- assisted in developing materials in support of legislative reforms in Virginia and federal death penalty procedure, and attended state and Congressional legislative hearings;
- organized a service project to uncover large-scale fabrication of evidence by jailhouse informants, a phenomenon known to be one of the main causes of wrongful convictions; and
- helped prepare for a June 2012 death penalty resentencing trial in which the Clearinghouse director is lead counsel.