As a later in life, “nontraditional” law student, my decision to go back to school had everything to do with knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my law degree; I wanted to dismantle the systems and knock down the barriers that contribute to the oppression of millions of people nationwide, particularly those experiencing poverty. Interning at the Homeless Advocacy Clinic (HAC) has given me the tools, knowledge, and confidence required to engage in public interest work long term.
My experience has been slightly different from most other students in that I spent my rising 2L summer and the entire 2L year in the Clinic. I was initially drawn to HAC because of its philosophy which promotes the importance of client-centered and holistic representation. One of HAC’s goals is to address the barriers faced by people experiencing homelessness. Working towards this goal, I assisted clients with issues ranging from obtaining social security benefits to criminal record expungement. It’s been truly eye-opening (and maddening!) to see how dysfunctional and counterproductive the systems that are in place to help people are.
HAC offers a unique student experience, and as soon as I started, I was given my own caseload. I had two amazing supervising attorneys, Professor Ron Hochbaum and Tori Larson, but was responsible for my cases and clients from start to finish. I managed all client communication, legal research, writing, client counseling, and appeared in court and hearings, when necessary. Managing my own caseload, I had full autonomy. I was scared and nervous at first, but it ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences working at the HAC. It provided me with an immense opportunity to learn how to navigate complex legal and bureaucratic issues, as well as how to connect with clients from all walks of life.
I am most grateful for the skills I gained during my time in HAC that extend beyond the law. HAC instills in all students the importance, and often difficulty in, building trust with clients. Many of our clients are unhoused, or in transient living situations, and have negative interactions with the legal system. Their relationships can be temporary, so it’s important to be a consistent, reliable presence in their lives. I really valued creating relationships with clients that went beyond their legal issues. I have spent almost a year working with a couple of my clients, and I know the continuity of our relationship enabled me to be a better advocate on their behalf.
During my year in HAC, my co-interns and I were fortunate enough to have seminar sessions on Trauma-Informed Lawyering. Our clients are so much more than their legal issues, and learning how to approach clients with a trauma-informed lens helps ensure students are the best advocate for their clients we can be. I am confident the skills I learned from trauma-informed lawyering will translate well into all areas of law and is not something I would’ve ever been exposed to through the general law school curriculum.
I loved my time in HAC, and feel fortunate I had the opportunity during law school to experience real client interaction, manage my own cases, and gain an understanding of how valuable a good lawyer-client relationship can be. The best part was being surrounded by classmates and supervising attorneys/mentors who created a supportive, creative, and positive problem-solving environment. Most importantly, I know that HAC is doing and will continue to do what is possibly the hardest legal work out there; advocating for unhoused people and people oppressed by poverty in our community and seeing them as more than just “clients.”
By Lyndsay Anderson, a second-year law student at McGeorge School of Law.