May 13, 2022
Legal Clinic Leaders Series - SCALE II Christopher Phelps
Meet the students who work directly with and in the community to provide quality legal representation to underserved individuals through our Legal Clinic Leaders blog series. We're excited to spotlight these all-star advocates and showcase the many different fields of law you can explore through our legal clinics and the wide range of opportunities available at Southwestern to gain practical lawyering skills. We hope their experiences will inspire YOU to join a legal clinic.
Meet SCALE II Christopher Phelps
Immigration Law Clinic, Fall 2021
Why did you decide to participate in a clinic?
I participated in the clinic because I wanted to use the skills I learned in my first year of law school to help others that needed it.
What stands out about your clinic experience?
What stood out to me was the pace of the work and camaraderie in the clinic office. I had never worked in a real law office/environment before I applied to the clinic, and I am glad I experienced this before graduating law school.
What skills and knowledge did you learn from your clinic experience?
The most valuable skill I learned and practiced in my clinic experience was people skills. I learned how to communicate with so many different people, from clients, supervisors, co-workers, court staff, social workers, and more.
What do you think helped take you from student to advocate?
I think the confidence I built changed me from a student to an advocate. I still remember my first attempt at calling my U Visa client and how nervous I was to make that call. The work, lessons from Professor Ramos, and the clients all helped me build confidence in myself.
What words of advice would you have for future clinic students?
I would advise future clinic students to stay organized. I thought I was an organized person before the clinic; however, keeping track of various documents is important and difficult to do at times. Also, get the absolute most out of your experience at the clinic. This may be one of the last chances to practice skills before you are a real attorney.
Please provide an inspiring anecdote from your clinical work experience.
During my semester at the clinic, I witnessed several inspiring moments. The anecdote I would like to share was a 5-minute phone call that I answered on the clinic phone line about ten minutes before the clinic class started. I was packing up to move from the office to the classroom when the phone rang. I almost did not pick it up because I had to get to class, but I did.
A man called the clinic asking for legal representation, explaining his situation was urgent (I think he had a court hearing coming up) and how he had tried several other immigration attorneys who would not accept his case. The man seemed distraught and desperate, so I heard him out and verbally sympathized with his situation. Unfortunately, I had to inform him the clinic was not accepting new clients at this time and that the best I could do was email him a referral list of organizations/attorneys.
He thanked me and said that he was grateful that I had taken the time to hear him out. When I emailed the referral list to him, he replied by saying that he "did not even know how to thank me" and that he saved me on his phone as "the good man - Christopher."
With a 5-minute phone call that I nearly did not answer, I positively impacted someone's day. Yes, actually filing an immigration application is rewarding, but sometimes a small action can make a difference as well.
I am glad I was able to help so many people during my clinic semester. I learned that sometimes demeanor and people skills could be just as impactful as legal work.
Interested in learning more about the legal clinics? Visit our Clinics page here.