Elder Law Clinic: Serving a need and learning the law

graham bryantby Graham Bryant, Class of 2016

The law clinics at William & Mary Law School aim to give students opportunities to learn the nuances of certain areas of law through practical experiences in the field. This past semester, I had the chance to work with one of the Law School’s newer clinics: the Elder Law Clinic.

Elder law is a broad field that encompasses the issues affecting America’s growing population of older people. I was initially attracted to the clinic because I’m interested in trusts and estates (T&E) law, particularly estate litigation, but I soon realized that elder law is so much more than T&E. In the clinic, just like an elder law practice, we handled everything from guardianship and conservatorship proceedings to simple estate planning, from elder abuse situations to veterans’ benefits applications and Medicaid planning.

elder law

As you can imagine, elder law is rarely limited to a detached legal analysis. The “counselor” part of “attorney and counselor at law” plays a large role with elder clients, as they frequently bring issues and needs that the law alone is insufficient to meet. In this sense, elder law is much like family law. The attorney’s—or in our case, student attorney’s—judgment is as important as her background in the law itself because you never know what will walk in the door.

For instance, one of the cases I handled last semester involved a property law and potential fraud issue, neither of which were covered in the lecture part of the course designed to prepare us for the common elder law issues. Despite a lack of training, I was able to pull deeds from the courthouse, draft a new deed, and counsel my client in the best options for her property even though none of these tasks are considered usual elder law concerns. Under the tutelage of our excellent supervising attorney, Helena Mock, however, I and the other clinic students were able to handle almost any issues presented by clients in need.

That’s not to say it’s always an easy job. You can read a more complete account on our blog, but another of my clients last semester demonstrated why elder law attorneys need to understand the full context of their clients. On the surface, it seemed to be a simple estate planning case—drafting a will, power of attorney, and advance medical directive. But my client was completely bedridden, only spoke Spanish, and was currently under hospice care. My clinic partner and I read between the lines to infer that her family had contacted the clinic because both time and the family’s options were running out. We placed this client above our other responsibilities, including making night visits to the client’s home and the clinic office, and completed the estate planning documents in record time. One week later, our client passed away. Had the documents not been executed in time, the family would have been in a very difficult situation.

That case really illustrates why I wouldn’t trade my time with the Elder Law Clinic for anything. I learned more about what it means to be a lawyer working with my ELC clients than I have in ordinary lecture classes. If you want to expand your knowledge of a certain area of law while helping actual clients, one of William & Mary Law School’s clinics is far and away the best option for you. 

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This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Program

satiraby John Satira, Class of 2017

Individuals engaging in the study of law could certainly be described as a curiosity-driven and knowledge-seeking bunch. The William & Mary Law School community supports the intellectual curiosities of its students, faculty, and staff by hosting a wide variety of speakers to discuss various topics related to law. In fact, one of my many New Year resolutions for 2015 has been to attend more of the school’s speaker events. Thankfully, I was able to make strides toward accomplishing my resolution early, as educational speaker opportunities began as soon as winter break ended.

One especially interesting event I attended was a program to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. For those that need a quick history refresher, the Magna Carta was a charter signed by England’s unpopular King John in 1215 that asserted certain rights the monarchy could not remove from its subjects. The legacy of the Magna Carta has had a profound impact on “rule of law” legal theory, including an influence on the legal framework of early United States law.

After an introduction by Dean Douglas, three very distinguished speakers took turns discussing the Magna Carta from a variety of perspectives. The first was William & Mary’s own Professor Tom McSweeney. As one of the nation’s leading experts on the Magna Carta, Professor McSweeney spoke about how the Magna Carta’s impact was not limited to the 1215 document. In fact, McSweeney argued that the lesser-known later amendments to the Magna Carta defined the charter’s legacy more profoundly than the terms of the original document. Following Professor McSweeney, Professor A.E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia Law School discussed the impact that the Magna Carta had on American constitutional theory, a topic that was particularly relevant to my constitutional law class this semester. Lastly, Sir Robert Worcester, chair of the United Kingdom’s Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, spoke about his own legal experience abroad and how the Magna Carta has maintained a global influence.

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary program, and I know I was not the only one. Many of my fellow students attended as well, and I was able to recognize a variety of professors and librarians also in attendance. It was great to see such an enlightening event get so much attention from the law school community, and I am very much looking forward to the next presentation I attend.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic

ostdiekby Jane Ostdiek, Class of 2015

Jane Ostdiek is originally from Ellicott City, Maryland. She earned her B.A. from the University of Maryland, College Park in Studio Art. As a 3L, Jane is a member of the PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic, William & Mary’s Moot Court Team, Law Cappella, and is Production Manager and a Director for Law Review, and Senior Notes Editor of the William & Mary Business Law Review.

 I’m happy to share my experiences working with the PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic this year. (PELE stands for Parents Engaged for Learning Equality.) This semester was intense. The first day, we were given a list of clients, and over the fall I handled calls, IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, researched a wide variety of issues, drafted a State complaint, and worked closely with our supervisor, Professor Shin, my partner, Melissa Klatzkow, and the rest of the Clinic members.

I’ve worked with legal clinics before, but my experience with PELE was unique. At my first meeting, I was incredibly nervous and afraid to say anything. As the semester progressed, I started getting comfortable with speaking, suggesting goals and advocating for my clients. Issues ranged from drafting goals and accommodations for a child’s IEP, enforcing IEPs and BIPs (Behavior Intervention Plan), dealing with staff harassing a child, IDEA violations, and more. We would also workshop our more difficult cases together—as a team, we handled a lot of serious cases and did a lot of good work.

When I was considering law schools, I picked William & Mary because I believed it would be challenging and bring the best out of me. I was right, and the PELE Clinic exemplifies why. The work was hard, hands on, and fast paced, but it was intensely rewarding. It is amazing to realize how you’ve grown and improved over the course of one semester. Not every case ends perfectly, but few things feel better than reading an email or a report card about how your legal work helped a child succeed.

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Domestic Violence Clinic

smithby Emily Smith, Class of 2015

Emily Smith is a 3L from Richmond, Virginia. She received her B.A. from the University of Mary Washington in Philosophy with a minor in Mathematics.

The Domestic Violence Clinic at William & Mary Law School allows third-year students to practice law in the courtroom under the supervision of the experienced attorney Darryl Cunningham. The aim of the clinic is for students to conduct protective order hearings for victims of domestic violence that come to Professor Cunningham as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia. Protective orders are issued after one person has physically abused another. They typically prohibit contact between one individual and another, and can also give one party use of a marital home or car, temporary custody of children, temporary child support, and more.

I enrolled in the clinic this past fall as preparation for a career in criminal law, and as an opportunity to participate in court with my Third-Year Practice Certificate. We spent the first couple of weeks learning about protective orders and domestic violence, which included a visit from a woman who works at Avalon, a nearby women’s shelter. Then we were free to represent Professor Cunningham’s clients at protective order hearings as they became available during the semester.

I represented a woman in grave need of a protective order. Her husband had beaten and sexually assaulted her while she was pregnant with his third child, and the other children were just upstairs. Before the hearing, I advised the client of what to expect procedurally during the hearing and reviewed the protection she hoped to receive from the court order. With my Third-Year Practice Certificate, I was able to conduct the hearing myself, with Professor Cunningham by my side for support and guidance when it was necessary. I questioned the client, helping her convey the abuse to the judge. The defendant was facing criminal charges arising out of the same incident of abuse and so choose not to testify. Our client received all of the provisions she was seeking, including use of the marital home, temporary custody of the children, temporary child support, and an order for no contact beyond electronic communication necessary for arranging child visitation.

I found it satisfying to help keep an abused woman safe. Now, if her husband hurts her or even attempts to contact her outside the confines of the order, he will face further criminal charges. The Clinic was also helpful as I will likely work with domestic violence professionally when I enter the field of criminal law. I also obtained courtroom experience before graduation, and with the support of an experienced attorney.

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic

Andrisby James Andris, Class of 2015

Originally from Philadelphia, James graduated from Elon University, North Carolina, with a B.A. in psychology. He currently serves as a William & Mary Law Review staff member, National Trial Team member, and Benjamin Rush Scholar.

As a third-year law school student, I have lost track of the number of legal professionals who have offered me career advice. Their counsel generally consists of three parts: a heated opinion concerning the efficacy of specializing in a single practice versus the utility of studying multiple legal fields; horror stories relating to professors or classmates (sometimes both); and the unassailable conclusion that students should break free from academic atmospheres and experience the law through internships, externships, and clinics. Apart from fortifying resumes and expanding rolodexes (yes, some lawyers still use rolodexes), they explained that work outside of the classroom teaches students how to advocate through interactions with clients and real-world problems. With this advice in mind, I enrolled in William & Mary’s Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic (VCPC), serving as a clinic intern for the 2014 fall semester.

My time with the VCPC was superb. Every week Roy Hoagland, the VCPC Director, invited a guest speaker to present on scientific principles that impact environmental disputes or legal issues. As such, I met James Redick, Director of Norfolk’s Department of Emergency Preparedness & Response, Commander Mark P. Nevitt, of the U.S. Navy JAG Corps, and the Honorable Tayloe Murphy, former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Additionally, Roy scheduled several trips for the clinic.  For example, we traveled to Richmond to attend the Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission Meeting. Afterwards, the clinic socialized with the Governor and the Secretary of Natural Resources during the reception hosted at the Governor’s Mansion. The clinic also traveled to Norfolk for a recurrent flooding tour and to Newport News for a bay tour. Both trips highlighted climate change’s impact on the local economy and ecosystem.

Yet, as a clinic intern I did more then shake hands and explore the tidewater region. At the beginning of the semester, Roy assigned each of us to projects submitted by local military, government, and business leaders. I was tasked with evaluating a lawsuit filed by the Farmers Insurance Group against the City of Chicago for failure to adapt to climate change. In a white paper I authored for the VCPC, I identified and applied Farmers’ legal principles to Virginia floods. One month into the semester, Roy informed me that I would present my findings at William & Mary’s Adaptive Planning for Flooding and Coastal Change in Virginia Conference.

On December 5, following U.S. Senator Tim Kaine’s keynote address, I acted as the final speaker for the conference’s panel on flood insurance and local government liability. Standing in front of over 150 lawyers and community leaders, I explained the differences between Illinois and Virginia legal environments and applied Virginia case law to the relevant liability theories. After I finished, audience members approached me, complimented my presentation, asked me questions, and gave me their business cards.

The VCPC provided me with the opportunity to navigate political channels, explore the real world application of academic principles, and learn about pressing environmental issues. The clinic and conference were incredible experiences, and I look forward to working with the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic in the upcoming semester.

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic

griffithby Meaghan Griffith, Class of 2015

Meaghan graduated from the University of Richmond with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2010.  Before law school, she spent two years working as a territory sales manager in northern Virginia.  Meaghan is a member of the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic and serves the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal as the Member Coordinator. After graduation, she will be working at King & Spalding in Washington, DC.

After having an upperclassman tell me his involvement with the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic was one of his favorite law school experiences, and hearing great things from others who were involved in the Clinic, I made it my goal to land one of eight coveted spots in the class.  Although I did my due diligence in speaking with Clinic alumni, I did not fully understand what it would mean to be a part of the Clinic until the year began.

My favorite part about the Clinic is that participants operate as a unit.  Although we work on individual cases in pairs, we make certain decisions as a group, discuss our thoughts on different topics, and update each other on case statuses.  There is a strong connection among the eight of us and, although we do not each work on every case, we are all interested in every outcome.

In August, my partner and I were assigned to write the first brief of the school year.  We began the writing process before classes even started, relying heavily on conference calls with Professor Tillman Breckenridge.  By the end of September we had filed a brief with the Fifth Circuit.

Actual and relevant legal experience is difficult to find inside the classroom.  The Appellate Clinic provides not only that, but real experience in appellate law.  The hands-on education has given me invaluable training, as well as the confidence to do appellate work.

I am lucky to be part of the Appellate Clinic and I recommend it without hesitation.  I look forward to another great semester!

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

A 1L Looks Back

lennonby Kate Lennon, Class of 2017

Now that I have completed my first law school exams, it seems like a valuable moment to look back on my first semester as a law student. If I were to generalize my law school experience so far, I would say it has been everything I expected while being full of surprises at the same time. Before you come to law school, others try to explain to you what law school is like. They tell you that there is a lot of writing, a lot of cold calling, and a lot of reading. In reality, all of that did happen. However, I look back and realize exactly why all of that is so important. Just recently, I looked at the writing I did in my first couple weeks of school, and it is hard to believe I wrote like that just a few short months ago! I now realize that I have improved in thinking of answers on my feet in a way I did not know was possible. And even though I was a fast reader before, I read must faster now, especially legal opinions (trust me, it’s different).

Even beyond the academic challenges, I never realized how much of a new life experience law school would be. When I came to law school, one thing I didn’t think about was that every other first-year student would be in the same position as me. We all entered the unknown together. In the end though, this is what has bonded us. I think it is a common perception that students in law school are unfriendly toward each other because of the competitive basis behind legal education. Perhaps it is like that at other law schools, but not here. In my short time at William & Mary Law School, I have made friends that I know will last a lifetime.

All in all, I look at law school as being a stepping-stone making me into the person I want to be. Have you ever wondered how lawyers can carry themselves in a confident way? Ever wonder how a lawyer is able to think on his/her feet when making a deal or arguing in a courtroom? In the past,I know I have thought these things. All of these thoughts were commonly followed by a thought of hoping that someday I will find that type of confidence and demeanor. Well in my four months of at William & Mary Law School, I can tell you that a large reason for a lawyer’s confidence and demeanor is his/her experiences in law school. While I am not there yet, I know law school will get me there. Particularly, William & Mary Law School will get me there. Peers, alumni, advisors and professors at William &Mary Law have already been more helpful than expected. We are not here just for an education. We are here to become to lawyers.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Annual Thanksgiving Basket Competition

lennonby Kate Lennon, Class of 2017

On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, first-year law students were able to get a break from their studies and take part in a service project for the community. Each year, the Law School participates in a Thanksgiving food drive, sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, which collects thousands of food items to benefit families in need in the area. Each 1L Legal Practice section collects food items and money to buy food items for donation. But, collecting the items is not where it ends in this food drive. There is a competitive spin. The food items purchased and collected are used to create different displays. They call the displays “baskets”– I am guessing the competition used to be basket but now has grown much bigger. Each section creates their own display to compete with other sections based on three categories: best content, most creative, and judges’ choice.

The night before judging, the Law School lobby was full of first-year law students creating displays for their section. Everyone was having fun with it. Music and laughter filled the lobby. The competition resulted in a variety of different displays. My section initially went in with an idea to make a giant piece of pie. However, once we got to the school, we realized another section was doing the same thing. Within a moments notice, we scratched the idea and came up with a new one. This is what we came up with:


A display of a fireplace in a living room won for judges’ choice; most creative went to a Wizard of Oz Display; and best content went to a courtroom display complete with an image of Dean Douglas in a robe as the judge. The food drive was able to collect 4,114 food items and coupons for 12 turkeys to be donated to help the community for Thanksgiving. While our section did not win (the competition was fierce), helping families in need was a victory all the same.


Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Intramural Sports During Law School

greenby Kelly Green, Class of 2018

Arriving at law school, I was told that I need to spend time throughout the week on a recreational activity. For most students, this activity is watching Netflix. However, another recreational avenue exists that has proved to be a great counterbalance to the rigors of law school– intramurals!

On a brisk November night, ten law school students warm up for a flag football game on a muddy field next to the William & Mary Fitness Center. Unlike the other intramural football teams, this team never practices, but they show up ready to play for each game and have an undefeated record. They have a great time playing since many of the members of the Law School’s intramural sports teams played a sport for their undergraduate schools. Some ran track or played soccer while others played football or volleyball. Others have no experience and are simply playing to just let loose. After a day filled with case briefs and cold calling, a night that features good old-fashioned running and camaraderie is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Overall, William & Mary Law School students are heavily involved in intramural sports. This semester, almost every class year had teams in both the men’s and co-ed division of multiple sports. The co-rec indoor soccer championship game pinned two first-year Law School teams against each other with the “True Americans” beating “1L of a Soccer Team” in a nail biter. The first round of the flag football playoffs featured the undefeated third year co-ed team “Semi-Pro Bono”. At all these games, Law School students could be seen on the sidelines cheering on their fellow classmates.

“True Americans” Winners of the Co-ed Indoor Soccer Intramural Champtionship

“True Americans” Winners of the Co-ed Indoor Soccer Intramural Champtionship

It seems like many Law students have found just the right balance of physical and mental exercise necessary throughout the semester. With volleyball, tennis, and basketball intramurals coming up in the spring, it appears that students here at William & Mary Law School will be plenty involved in both the mental and physical challenges that this school has to offer.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Arsenic & Old Lace

keefeby TJ Keefe, Class of 2018

For law students, the end of the semester can be very stressful. With various deadlines looming, most of us start spending far more time in the library than we’d like to admit. Yet, as many students prepare to perform on finals, members of the William & Mary Law Revue prepare to perform on stage.  Providing their classmates with an excellent diversion from the stresses of November, the law school’s drama group, Law Revue, performs a new play each fall.

This year, the William & Mary Law Revue delivered two performances of Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic & Old Lace.  To be honest, I had no idea what to expect going into Saturday night’s performance of the comedy. To say that the show was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. Law Revue managed to transform the law school lobby into an intimate theater, complete with a solid crowd and homemade refreshments. Once the play began, the performers had the audience laughing throughout the entire show. Perhaps the funniest performance of the evening was delivered by Michael Wyatt, portraying the unscrupulous Dr. Einstein. Maintaining an absurd German accent throughout the show, Wyatt received giggles from the audience with nearly every one of his lines.

Given the time of the year, Law Revue’s performance of Arsenic & Old Lace was an impressive feat. Faced with the workload of November, the group’s student-actors managed to provide an extremely polished play. Without reservation, I would recommend checking out Law Revue’s next show!


Cast and Crew (pictured above and listed below)

Abby Brewster Amanda Hamm (3L)
Martha Brewster Rose Moore (2L)
Teddy Brewster Eric Taber (1L)
Mortimer Brewster Peter Landsman (3L)
Jonathan Brewster Andrew Pecoraro (1L)
Dr. Einstein Michael Wyatt (2L)
Dr. Harper Karl Spiker (1L)
Elaine Harper Lydia Magyar (2L)
Mr. Gibbs Alex Reidell (3L)
Officer Brophy Nicholas Medved (1L)
Officer Klein Ajinur Setiwaldi (1L)
Officer O’Hara Jennifer Watson (2L)
Lieutenant Rooney Seth Peritz (2L)
Dr. Witherspoon Michelle Weinbaum (1L)
Hoskins/Spenalzo Teresa Donaldson (1L)
Director Ashley Johnson (JD/MPP 2016)
Production Manager Jane Ostdiek (3L)
Stage Manager Mary Catherine Amerine (1L)
Technical Director  Kevin Bender (2L)
Publicity Chair Amy Meiburg (2L)

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Season’s Greetings

Holiday greetings to you from all of us at William & Mary Law School!

Law students have recently completed their exams and enjoying some much-deserved rest and relaxation over winter break.

Graham Bryant, a graduate of the College and second-year law student, has written about the annual Yule Log.  Students receive a spring of holly as they enter the courtyard.  The yule log is passed through the crowd and everyone touches it for good luck. Afterwards, students walk through the Wren Great Hall and throw their sprig of holly on the fire to throw away the worries of the past year.

Wherever you are this holiday season, we encourage you to throw a sprig and wish you a wonderful year in 2015!

Best Wishes and Happy Holidays!

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