Upper level students get training in the general civil practice of law with an emphasis on the growing field of elder law. They represent clients in a range of matters, including wills, guardianship, fraud, and other concerns. They also participate in the Memory Assessment Clinic, and have two classes taught by medical school faculty. See below for FAQs.
The Elder Law Clinic helps students:
- understand the substantive laws affecting the elderly, such as guardianship and Medicaid
- improve their interviewing, counseling and writing skills
- increase their appreciation of the unmet need for legal assistance
- identify and handle professional ethical issues
The Clinic gives students direct experience advocating for their clients in many arenas, such as:
- negotiating with agencies such as the Department of Social Services
- handling some litigation, allowing them to argue civil motion hearings and to draft and answer discovery
- participating in mediation of family disputes and consumer issues
- preparing briefs and persuasive letters to decision-makers in administrative hearings
Here’s what students have said on recent course evaluations:
- I enjoyed the course. Very practical information and presentation. Good hands-on teaching technique. Excellent modeling by instructor. Thank you!
- One of the most valuable experiences I have had in law school. Highly recommend it. Great program. Professor Mewhinney is extremely knowledgeable.
- I really enjoyed this class as a whole. It gave us a good look into what the day-to-day practice of law will be like once we graduate. Everyone at the clinic was so nice, and I really enjoyed getting to know them.
- She is an excellent professor. The clinic works so well because of her 19 years of experience. Everything is so organized and the student takes away so much about issues for the elderly and small firm practice. The feedback is also outstanding. I really loved the fact that we learn a diverse array of subject matters.
- I really enjoyed the clinic. The professor was very knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. At the beginning it felt overwhelming, but there probably is no way around that.
- This is the greatest experience I have had to the law school. Professor Mewhinney is not only wonderful to learn from, but she is someone who I really admire as a professional. I have a much better understanding about how a law firm is run. Working with clients has also been a great experience. I would recommend this class to everyone.
Who should take this Clinic course?
Those students who want experience in a small firm environment, handling the types of cases taken by general civil practices. Also, students interested in developing the skills of interviewing and counseling clients. Second year students who are in their second semester, and all third year students may take this Clinic, if they are in good standing. There are no prerequisite courses. Students learn how to draft advice letters to clients, practice problem solving and negotiating, and may get some litigation experience. Students also learn how to prepare and execute basic wills and powers of attorney. They gain experience valuable to law firms who need new lawyers who have made the transition from classroom learning to actual practice. We recommend you look at our past newsletters to see what students do!
What is Elder Law?
Elder law, a term coined in the 1980s, focuses on the legal problems of older adults. Why? Because they are the fastest growing part of the population. Elder law issues affect all income groups in the U.S. Elder law grew out of the field of wills and estates, but is now much broader. There are many kinds of elder law practices. They can include, for example:
- Health law and health care coverage, including managed care issues
- Guardianships, and other litigation focused on mental capacity issues, such as challenges to wills
- Nursing home negligence litigation
- Handicap and age discrimination cases
- Trusts and benefits for disabled people
- Counseling about investing in retirement communities
- Pension rights
Most state bar associations, including the N.C. Bar Association, have elder law sections. There is also a national specialty exam in elder law, approved by the American Bar Association. North Carolina’s State Bar provides for board certification of elder law specialists. Last but not least, check out the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys for more about elder law.
Is the Clinic only for students who want to practice elder law?
Absolutely not. Students gain practical lawyering skills useful in any law practice where lawyers have individual clients. Clinic participation also demonstrates interest in public service work and community involvement, valued by many employers.
Who can register for Elder Law Clinic?
Only students selected by the Clinical Professor may register for E-Clinic. At least a week before Registration, students should email a letter saying why they are interested in taking the course, along with a resume. Send it to Professor Kate Mewhinney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Only selected students (including a waitlist) will be able to register for the class on-line, using the regular registration process.
Do students have to be in “good standing” to take E-Clinic?
Yes. The managing attorney of the E-Clinic must be able to certify that a student is “of good character with requisite legal ability and training to perform as a legal intern,” and that student has not been suspended from the law school, and that student would be “in good standing” for purposes of the student practice rule, regardless of the fact that the student is currently on academic probation.
Are there prerequisite courses for The Elder Law Clinic?
No, but the following is a list of helpful courses which have been offered at the law school in the past:
- Consumer Protection
- Debtor-Creditor Law
- Decedents’ Estates and Trusts
- Dispute Resolution
- Donative Transfers (Future Interests)
- Estate Planning
- Health Care Law and Policy
- Insurance Law
- Legislation and Administrative Law
- Litigation Clinic
- Pre-Trial Practice and Procedure
- Poverty Law
- Trial Practice
How is the course graded?
Click on these items to see how E-Clinic students are graded:
Are students paid in Clinic?
No. American Bar Association standards for law schools prohibit payment. However, one student is hired during the summer to work part-time, and is paid. For this position, preference is given to students who have taken The Elder Law Clinic course.
How does the Clinic get cases?
Cases come from many sources: former clients, social service agencies, news coverage, private lawyers, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and staff at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. People aged 60 or over, with low to moderate incomes, may become clients. They may own a home and have some savings. The financial criterion is a function of the federal poverty guidelines. The Clinic serves people in Forsyth and the surrounding counties. Students may only give legal advice to people who have been accepted as Clinic clients. They may not give legal advice to callers, students, or university employees.
Do Clinic students determine callers’ financial eligibility?
No. Clients usually are screened for financial eligibility prior to coming in for the first time. Generally, once a person is scheduled to come in for an appointment, the Clinic will accept their case. However, occasionally, at the first interview a case will turn out to be inappropriate for the Clinic. If that occurs, the Managing Attorney will inform the individual that the Clinic cannot accept the case. All of the work for clients is free. Students may not accept compensation or gifts from clients.
When does the course start and stop?
We start and finish according to the same schedule as the other classes in the law school.
How much time do students spend in this Clinic?
You can expect to spend 8 to 10 hours – and sometimes more – in the Clinic per week. This time is in addition to the regular 2 hour class. Which meets twice a week for the first half of the semester. It is likely that your time commitment will exceed the normal eight to ten hours per week as a result of court time tables, time consuming interviews, travel to meet with clients, or other factors. Law practice is not always predictable. We are usually able to reduce a student’s hours later in the semester, if he or she has had extra demanding weeks. Keep in mind that The Elder Law Clinic can be intense, exciting, and exhausting, but it will also be rewarding. Quality work takes time – please be prepared for this. Students who find that they are regularly exceeding 8-10 hours per week in the Clinic are expected to communicate this to the managing attorney, if it is a concern for them. Spending long hours does not translate into a high grade for students. (So, please don’t bring in a sleeping bag and a change of clothes!) Here’s an example of a typical E-Clinic Schedule.
On which days of the week can students schedule their Clinic hours?
Students’ regularly scheduled clinic hours are limited to Monday through Wednesday. The clinic is open on Thursday and Friday, and available to students if they need extra time.
What if the student needs to take time off?
If a job interview or other pressing matter conflicts with the student’s schedule in Clinic, he or she must discuss it with the Managing Attorney. Time missed will be scheduled to be made up.
What do students wear to Clinic?
Students and staff dress as in other law offices. Dresses, skirts, suits, sports jackets, and similar business attire is worn. Business casual attire may be worn when a student does not have a client appointment.
What is the drop/add policy for The Elder Law Clinic?
Because The Elder Law Clinic needs continuity in its work for clients, students may not drop this course after the first class, without getting a “w” on the student’s transcript.
Why will students learn about medical issues in aging?
Many of the legal issues of older adults relate to medical problems. Consider, for example, Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia: a person suffering from this may need a court appointed guardian. Many older people want to designate a relative to make medical decisions for them; Clinic students help them by drafting statutory health care powers of attorney. A hospital chaplain and physician sometimes teach students about bioethics issues in end-of-life medical treatment. Clinic students may tour the ICU (intensive care unit) or Hospice Home, with these experts. The exposure to medical information provides law students with a superior background for elder law cases.
If you have other questions, please contact us or drop by.