Alum Reflects on Women and the Law Clinic Experience
It’s nine o’clock at night; I’ve been up since my usual four a.m. I have been working non-stop for the past few weeks and I miss my wife, dog, and bed. My immigration client, who normally responds to my texts within two hours, hasn’t answered me in four days and my mind is racing with the worst possible scenarios. Right now, my partners and I are working for a different client on the wording of a settlement agreement for a divorce, child custody, child support, and property distribution.
Something is bothering me. The words of the agreement seem clunky, awkward, insufficient. I have been pouring over this agreement for days, criticizing every word, every phrasing. There are seventeen different drafts of it on my computer within a week. I look at the wording as I drink my coffee in the morning and as I brush my teeth at night. I want it to be perfect. My client deserves it to be perfect. But, still, after all my agonizing, it remains clunky.
This might be the most important lesson I learned practicing as a student attorney in the Women and the Law Clinic. The law, the practice of it, the living of it as a lawyer is “clunky.” There will be no perfection found in it. Chances are the client is coming to you during the worst moment of their lives, not the best. If the law was neat and easily perfected, there would be no need for lawyers. The “clunky” is why lawyers exist.
Shortly before our Pretrial Conference, the opposing party offers their own version of a settlement. After we discuss it with our client, she decides to accept it. She wants to avoid court, end the arguments between her and her soon-to-be-ex-husband, give her child stability. I have so many mixed feelings. I am ecstatic that my late nights will be endings. I am proud that the wording I drafted is included in the finalized agreement. But I am sad for our client, knowing that she gave up many things that were important to her. I am worried that perhaps she conceded too much.
The morning of her court appearance, when the settlement agreement will become the Order of the court, she hugs each of us. She thanks us. My partners go to the courtroom, but I stay with her child. We watch Moana and play tic-tac-toe. At some point, the child looks at me and says, “Mommy has been sad.” I think about the “clunk” that I was so worried about and the mixed feelings I have about the agreement. None of that matters now. Our client has achieved her goal of ending this whole messy process. The “clunk” was important factor in that achievement. I tell the child, “I think your Mommy will be happier now.” I think I’m beginning to understand my role as an attorney.