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Experiential Education with Impact

February 20, 2023

As lead counsel, Penn Carey Law students engaged in Gittis Legal Clinics achieve positive, impactful outcomes for their clients.

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students who participate in the Gittis Legal Clinics have direct impact on their clients’ lives and well-being. Each year, clinic students collectively render over 30,000 hours of pro bono legal services to more than 150 clients served by the eight clinics. Students build relationships with their clients, gather facts, and take a client-centered approach to finding solutions to their clients’ problems and achieving the best possible outcomes.

As the Law School’s teaching law firm, the Gittis Legal Clinics provide second- and third-year students with exceptional experiential learning.

“In the Clinic, students apply the theory they learn in their first-year doctrinal classes and upper-level lectures to real life situations that affect everyday people’s lives,” said Praveen Kosuri, Deputy Dean for Clinical Education and Director of the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic (ELC).

Clinics also allow students to give back to local and global communities by providing important legal services to those who would otherwise be unable to access them. The experience often profoundly impacts both the students – refining their legal skills and shaping their professional identities – and clinical clients. “In our clinics, students start to decide what kind of lawyers they want to be. That journey will continue throughout their careers but begins here in the Clinic,” Kosuri said.

Securing Asylum for a Family

Last year, Haley Ferise L’23 and Katherine Hyde L’23 took on an urgent asylum case with the Transnational Legal Clinic. Ferise and Hyde represented a Honduran family of four who were forced to flee their home after credible, escalating threats of extreme violence against the parents and their children.

“There is no substitute for direct client work,” Ferise said. “At the end of the day, a lawyer’s job is to serve her client, and practicing that service is instrumental to a full legal education. The opportunity to work directly with clients was incredibly formative, and I feel more confident as I enter my legal career.”

Together, Ferise and Hyde worked with their clients – through numerous meetings, phone calls, and trial practice sessions – to navigate language barriers and, ultimately, overcome the intense challenges facing the family. In December 2022, Ferise and Hyde secured asylum for the family, who now has the protection of legal status as they rebuild their lives in Philadelphia.

“The value of asylum for our clients simply cannot be overstated. They are safe from the imminent harm in their home country, and I am humbled to have been a part of the process that ensured this outcome,” Ferise added.

Preparing for a Career Advocating for Youth

Makayla Harrison L'23 Makayla Harrison L'23

Each semester, law and social work students in the Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic (ICAC) represent 15-20 youth in foster care, advocating for a wide range of needs from education, mental health, and childcare services to advising parents and caregivers of children with complex medical needs on civil legal issues.

Toll Scholar and Flom Youth Advocacy Scholar, Makayla Harrison L’23 reflected on how her experience with ICAC has helped advance her public interest career goals by providing hands-on experience representing youth in the child welfare system on education issues.

“I chose the ICAC because I thought it would best prepare me to advocate for families who endure trauma and systemic racism,” she said. “This was one of the highlights of my law school experience. It has been an amazing learning opportunity that has provided me with guidance and practical experience to grow as an advocate – from interviewing and building strong relationships with clients to thinking critically about case strategy and preparing legal documents.”

Supporting Innovative Entrepreneurs

Students in the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic (ELC) advise social enterprises in transactional matters. Yusef Ahmad L’23 was part of a team representing a Philadelphia-based environmental technology business focused on eliminating microplastics from wastewater.

With his team, Ahmad advised the client during negotiations with other entities to improve product testing and development. Students also assisted the client with a variety of corporate governance issues, ensuring the business was on firm footing and able to develop and deploy a product to clean up and preserve the environment.

“Getting appropriate legal counsel on negotiations and corporate governance matters bolstered the client’s product development, helped to advance its mission around microplastics awareness, and supported the company in scaling from a startup to a level where it has the potential to make significant impact,” Ahmad said.

Path to Career Success

Yusef Ahmad L'23 Yusef Ahmad L’23Regardless of career path, Penn Carey Law students often find clinical experiences to be a crucial part of their legal education and path to career success. Ahmad, who will join Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP with a focus on Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A), shared how his work with ELC prepared him to advise clients on the most challenging, complex, and high-stakes transactions.

“To succeed, I had to be comfortable wearing many hats: advising clients on formation, capital fundraising, regulatory concerns, equity financing, intellectual property, tax, and on legal and business issues that arise as companies grow. The breadth and depth of advice that I provided to my clients allowed me to learn about a wide range of areas,” he said.

Ahmad advises his peers and future law students to take advantage of as many experiential learning opportunities as possible.

“My clinical experience offered me the ability to counsel clients on complex problems at a very early stage in my career,” he said. “I learned how to develop a deep understanding of a client’s commercial objectives and the strategic motivators underlying them to help a client make decisions about business strategy.”

Learn more about pro bono opportunities through the Gittis Legal Clinics.