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Experience, W&L Law: Emelia Hall ’16L

Emelia Hall ’16L, a graduate of Mout Holyoke College, is a student attorney in the W&L Law Criminal Justice Clinic and the symposium editor for the Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice. After graduation, she will be working for a law firm in Baltimore.

Emelia Hall '16LEmelia Hall ’16L

At some point during my first year of law school, I figured out what I wanted to do. I knew for a fact that I wanted to be in a courtroom. This knowledge, coupled with my desire to achieve social justice and equality in the legal field further drew me to the Criminal Justice Clinic (CJC).

The CJC represents indigent clients facing criminal charges in both district and circuit court in Rockbridge County and surrounding jurisdictions. Since being a student attorney with the Clinic, I have represented clients facing assault and battery, destruction of property, failure to appear, and trespassing charges. I have had the opportunity to advocate for my clients at bond hearings, trials, motion hearings, as well as plea negotiations with the Commonwealth Attorney.

At the CJC, I see the case from the beginning right through until the end. This means that as soon as I am assigned to a client, I conduct the client interview, investigate the facts and legal issues, interview witnesses, and represent the client at trial. This allows me to take full responsibility of the process and gives me a realistic outlook on what is expected from criminal defense attorneys.

This hands-on experience does not mean that I am left completely unsupervised. In fact, the Clinic is fortunate enough to be supervised by two extremely experienced and knowledgeable professors. Professor J.D. King and Professor Jon Shapiro both direct the Clinic and have both practiced criminal defense work in a number of states.  The CJC is run as if it were a real law firm. Although we operate on a pro bono basis, we log our hours, submit legal memoranda to the supervising professors, and then meet weekly with each professor to discuss the ongoing cases. Other than these weekly meetings, we also meet as a class every week. In class, each student attorney is given the opportunity to brainstorm legal issues, strategies, and the best methods to achieve the best result for each of our clients.

The first and second year of law school is usually based entirely on theory. During those years, you learn how to read and interpret case law, as well as research legal issues. In my experience, the practical element of law only came during my summer employment. The Clinic allows me to put all I have learned during my first two years of law school into actual practice. 1L and 2L year gave me the necessary foundation to properly research issues, but the Clinic gave me the ability to argue and apply that research well. Even in terms of classes, without actual practice it can be difficult to conceptualize a lot of what really takes place in criminal defense work. The Clinic has opened my eyes to what happens behind the scenes. So many cases end in plea deals, and the ability to effectively weigh your client’s options, as well as negotiate with prosecutors, is not something that can be taught in theory alone.

The CJC has provided me the opportunity to actually practice law. At the Clinic, I am dealing with real people, real judges, and real consequences. The Clinic has shaped me as a professional, as an advocate, and as an effective trial attorney. The CJC has been one of the best experiences in my law school career thus far. I cannot imagine ending my time as a law student without this extraordinary transition into real life work. I am especially grateful to Professor King and Professor Shapiro as well as my clinic mates who have contributed to this invaluable experience.

Based on my experiences at the CJC, I would recommend this Clinic to any student who wants real courtroom experience regardless of whether that student intends to pursue criminal law.