By Sarah Boonin
In my mind, I have the world’s greatest job. Every day I participate in the intellectual and professional development of motivated, talented, and passionate law students who earn credit for representing real clients in Suffolk Law’s Health Law Clinic. Beyond that great honor, I have the privilege of serving an extremely vulnerable and marginalized population of clients who would likely go without representation were it not for the Clinic.
I am the faculty director of the Health Law Clinic. The Clinic is a legal services practice, housed at Suffolk Law, for low income clients with mental and physical disabilities and their families. Students enrolled in the Clinic have full responsibility for representing clients under my direct supervision in a range of legal matters from adult guardianships, to health insurance appeals, to Social Security disability appeals. Students conduct every element of client representation, from client interviewing and counseling, to drafting pleadings and other documents, negotiation and settlement, research and legal analysis, to representing clients in court and administrative proceedings. The students are the real lawyers, and I work in the background providing the necessary instruction, mentoring, and guidance.
The moments I cherish most in my work are the “ah-ha!” moments for my students. These aren’t necessarily the big wins in our cases (although I am very proud of those), or the outstanding performance of my students in court (although I am very proud of those moments also). These are times when the practice of law becomes tangible for my students; when they experience in practice – under uncertain conditions – what they had previously only read about; when they make connections between their education and training, and the real world of lawyering. Every one of my students has these moments in Clinic. They occur sometimes after an interaction with a client or counsel, or upon reflecting on an experience in court, or maybe during a conversation in my office during supervision. These are the moments they write about in their journals, the experiences they talk about during their job interviews, and the lessons they continue to draw upon in practice.
I tell my Clinic students at the beginning of each year that I will have done my job if, upon graduating from the Clinic, they have the skills, knowledge, and professional confidence to solve a legal problem independently – even one they have never before seen. I am proud to say that my students tell me I do my job quite well in this regard.
Sarah Boonin is an Associate Clinical Professor at Suffolk University Law School. In addition to teaching, she designed and directs Suffolk’s Health Law Clinic.