My name is Chris Campise and I am a 3L at Rutgers Law. Having completed my undergraduate degree at the Catholic University of America, I began law school with a strong desire to engage in public interest work. With my undergraduate experience consisting of a double major in both Spanish and International Politics, I considered myself well-poised to aid a variety of underprivileged clients with my global perspective and expanding legal knowledge.
Fortunately, Rutgers provides its students several opportunities to engage in this type of advocacy. Personally, I became involved during 2L year when I participated in the Pro Bono Estate Planning Project. This project involved drafting various estate planning documents for low-income clients. Overall, it was an enlightening experience, teaching all participants issue and conflict resolution which cannot be adequately covered in a traditional classroom setting. Such matters included proper client intake, document drafting techniques, and essential communication skills with clients who sometimes lacked English proficiency.
To build on my experience in the Pro Bono Estate Planning Project, I now work as a student-attorney in the Rutgers Law School Civil Practice Clinic. Thus far, my experience in the clinic has made me feel more practice-ready than I thought possible for a 3L on the cusp of graduation. The clinics at Rutgers are entirely student-run, with professors providing guidance only when absolutely necessary. For the students in the clinic, it is as if we are operating our own law firm of sorts, handling client matters from start to finish.
There are many advantages to working in this setting. First, it forces the students to perfect their ability to efficiently work in a team. At the beginning of the semester, all students in the clinic are divided into teams which work together throughout the term. It is crucial that these teams quickly learn how to work in tandem in order to meet or exceed the expectations of the professor, and most importantly, the needs of the clients.
However, the most satisfying aspect of the clinic is not the experienced gained, but rather the successful handling of a client’s matter. During one of my group’s first intake interviews, we were able to educate a client as to the relevant legal issues, come up with a plan as to how to proceed, and have the client leave with a feeling of calm and satisfaction. After the client left, my group took a second to ponder what had just happened and its gravity. As a team of students who have wanted to practice law since a young age, we quietly realized that we had just commenced the first client representation of our legal careers. After years of higher education and countless hours of studying, we were finally representing a real client, almost entirely on our own.
Over the course of the semester, we received other clients, though the mood of our group remains the same. With each small step taken toward the resolution of a client’s matter, we are reinvigorated to employ the skills gained in the classroom to obtain a successful outcome for our clients. Serving the underprivileged through participation in the Civil Practice Clinic has not only enhanced my legal acumen but has brought me great personal satisfaction in fulfilling my desire to give back to the community via public interest work.