Because you would rather be an active participant than a passive observer.
Active since 1969, our mission has been to teach and inspire the next generation of law students while providing the highest quality legal representation to the District’s low-income residents. As the District’s oldest law school clinical program, we have made “equal justice under law” a reality for thousands of our clients and trained and inspired hundreds of lawyers to protect the legal rights of the less fortunate.
We strive to train each of our students to be the best litigators and advocates for our clients but also with a spirit of public service. While you are with us, we want you to be the best, not just for benefit of advancing your professional career, but for the people you will serve. You will take from us an experience, an education, and an ideal about the way the world should work. You will truly understand what it can be like to make a difference in someone’s life. You will help people navigate the often treacherous and terrifying waters of the justice system. Together we can ensure a fair justice system for families and individuals at the most important and dire time of need – when risk of homelessness and liberty are threatened.
Whether you want to work at a law firm, corporation, government agency, or are interested in learning more about courtroom litigation, if you are student who is passionate about social justice please consider joining us for what we hope is the best experience you have in law school.
At D.C. Law Students in Court, supervision and instruction are heavily geared toward litigation, and the skills necessary for effective and ethical lawyering.
Although a supervising attorney is always directly involved in every case, the goal of the program is for the student attorney to have primary responsibility for each case. All LSIC supervisors understand and take seriously the premise that students learn best when theory is applied in the practice of law and when students are taught to reflect upon their cases and performances on a regular basis. Accordingly, LSIC offers a learning environment that focuses on theory development, case preparation, courtroom performance, professional responsibility, and self-assessment. Like other clinical courses, LSIC provides the opportunity to benefit from a one-on-one working relationship with an instructor while applying theory and doctrine in a real case.
For both of LSIC’s divisions the semester begins with a mandatory orientation, which takes place before regular law school classes begin. Additionally, for each division, there is required reading over the summer or winter break in preparation for orientation and the upcoming semester. After orientation ends, weekly seminars provide a continued experiential and classroom learning component for the students.
To participate in the program, students must commit to an average of 25 hours per week during the year, which includes court days and court appearances, class time and preparation for class, case- work, and meetings with supervisors. Some weeks may not require that many hours; others may require more depending on the status of the cases.
The weekly seminar courses, which are held in the evening to accommodate court hearings, focus on substantive legal doctrine and professional responsibility, as well as developing skills needed as a student makes his or her first court appearances and begins to work with clients.
Although the substance of the representation differs for each division, the goals for the classwork and casework for both divisions are to:
- Focus on the skills required to provide highly effective and competent, ethical representation to clients
- Foster an environment where students learn how to independently synthesize facts and legal principles and to plan appropriate litigation strategies
- Facilitate a student’s ability to examine the substantive law and to determine its application in each case, and
- Guide law students’ awareness and understanding of the impact of their professional efforts in the case, in the community, and in the justice system.
Each seminar is designed to introduce students to law and practice issues in the particular subject area. Through readings, discussion, role plays, and simulated trial practice exercises, the classes focus on topics such as the role and professional obligations of an attorney; ethical issues and broader systemic issues; client representation skills, such as mediation and negotiation, interviewing, counseling, negotiation, and investigation; trial skills such as discovery, case theory, planning, fact investigation, opening statements, closing arguments, and witness examinations; and mastery of the substantive law of evidence, criminal procedure, and/or civil procedure, as required for competent, zealous and effective advocacy. While the supervisors sometimes lecture on various topics, students primarily learn through guided, interactive exercises. Guest lecturers bring their expertise to the classroom from time to time as well.
Civil division students represent low-income clients in civil matters in D.C. Superior Court and local administrative agencies.
Most of LSIC’s civil litigation cases involve representing tenants in the Landlord and Tenant Branch and plaintiffs or defendants in the Small Claims Branch of the D.C. Superior Court. Landlord and tenant/housing cases involve issues such as property and contract law, but can intersect with receiverships, torts, administrative law, guardianship, probate, and bankruptcy. Under the close supervision of LSIC faculty, students engage in all facets of representation, such as client interviewing, case planning, fact investigation, legal research and writing, discovery, negotiation, and full representation in court.
The civil division is a major provider of legal representation for tenants in Landlord-Tenant Court. This area of the law is ideal for student attorneys as cases may involve complex analysis with intricate twists and turns. Representation in small claims cases often involves consumer issues; there is also some representation in a limited number of civil cases, such as wrongful eviction cases and other tort matters. Students prepare every facet of these cases, typically including client interviewing, discovery, drafting and arguing motions, engaging in settlement negotiations, and preparing for mediation and trial. A small number of students are given the opportunity to brief and argue a case before the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Civil division students set aside one day a week to be their “court day.” Under the close supervision of LSIC civil division faculty, students on their court days routinely interview potential clients and, if the case is not one in which representation will occur, they may negotiate with opposing parties, usually represented by counsel, enter a temporary appearance to resolve a discrete matter, or obtain a continuance for further proceedings and investigation in the case. With direct supervision, students often appear in a limited capacity before the sitting judge.
The goal of caseload decisions is to maximize educational benefits for the students. At any one time, each civil division student carries two active cases and one less active case. The less active case—e.g. monitoring a settlement—requires oversight but not a significant amount of daily attention. Most hearings are scheduled on a student’s court day. Because most tenants do not have representation, LSIC students provide the community with critical access to legal services and provide tenants with information and vital assistance when they are facing eviction, sometimes wrongfully.
Landlord-tenant cases and small claims cases are on a litigation fast track when compared with regular civil cases. Students can often begin a case and finish it within one semester.
Working under close faculty supervision, LSIC’s students manage cases from initial pleadings through investigation, discovery, motions practice, pretrial preparation, negotiation, and either settlement or trial. Many landlord-tenant cases are tried by juries. Some cases involve administrative proceedings, usually in conjunction with a case being litigated in court.
Students in the criminal division represent indigent, adult defendants in misdemeanor cases and provide legal representation to adolescents charged with any offense (except a few of the most serious felonies) in D.C. Superior Court.
Under the close supervision of our attorneys, students are responsible for all aspects of the case. They conduct extensive fact investigation, draft and file motions, argue motions, engage in pretrial discovery, act as lead in-court counsel, and represent clients in administrative hearings, including for example, representing clients in probation or parole revocation hearings. In addition, students may defend the Fifth Amendment rights of witnesses in court proceedings and before a grand jury.
Criminal division students are appointed cases under the Criminal Justice Act and first meet their clients in the cellblock on the C-level (basement) of D.C. Superior Court. Under the close direction of a supervising attorney, student attorneys begin their representation immediately by interviewing their clients in the cellblock and, later that day, arguing in court for their release pending further proceedings.
Working under direct LSIC faculty supervision, student attorneys act as the lead attorneys and assume primary responsibility for all aspects of the criminal or juvenile case.
Opposing counsel (prosecutors) come from the United States Attorney’s Office (adult) and the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (juvenile). After meeting with their primary supervisors to discuss negotiation strategies, the students may meet with the assigned prosecutors for discovery conferences and plea negotiations.
Each semester, students will have prepared for trial by conducting detailed client interviews, taking measurements and photographs at crime scenes, finding and interviewing defense and government witnesses, and subpoenaing witnesses and materials for trial. Under the close direction of the supervising attorney, students take responsibility for every aspect of the trial, including pre-trial legal research, and preparing and arguing motions. Additionally, every student will have prepared direct and cross examination questions, opening statements, and closing arguments, both for class and for court. Post-trial and post-plea, student attorneys are responsible for sentencing arguments, show cause hearings, bench warrant returns, and any post-trial motions.