Clinical Programs End of Year Celebration & CLEA Award Presentation

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On April 9, 2015, faculty and students who participated in the clinical programs in 2014-15 gathered for a special luncheon to celebrate the end of another successful year.

Professor Tamar Birckhead, Director of Clinical Programs, addressed the group and expressed the following:

It is my pleasure to welcome you (students, faculty, and staff) to the 3rd annual UNC clinical programs luncheon and presentation of the CLEA award. What is CLEA? It's a national organization that advocates for clinical legal education as fundamental to the education of lawyers, meaning that without clinics, the law school educational experience would be incomplete. This year we had 60 third year law students participate in one of our six clinics. And I am certain that each one now has a clear sense of why clinics are fundamental to legal education. Of course these students honed their skills: They became better negotiators, their written advocacy improved, their oral advocacy improved, but they also learned what it means to give voice to those without a voice, to advance arguments that challenge the powers that be, and to interpret and use the law as a tool for change.

Another part of CLEA's mission is to pursue and promote justice as a core value of the legal profession. In reading today's program, which contains the highlights of what each clinical student accomplished during this year, I know that as a result of the students' hard work and commitment, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of the moral universe has bent a little closer toward justice.

Please listen to just four examples:

  • Kim Perez, Community Development Law Clinic: counseled successful hunger relief program through process of expansion and drafted how-to guide to help its affiliates incorporate and apply for 501(c)(3) status;
  • Irving Figueroa, Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic: negotiated with USDA to correct errors in homeowner's mortgage account and thereby avoid foreclosure;
  • Abdul Salem, Immigration Law Clinic: compassionately worked with a victim of severe domestic violence, filing an immigration petition on her behalf and appearing in court to assist in the renewal of a domestic violence protection order;
  • Veronika Sykorova, Youth Justice Clinic: wrote and successfully argued original motion to dismiss based on common law in North Carolina, precluding six-year-olds from being prosecuted in juvenile court.

Yesterday I was speaking with the prosecutor who works in juvenile delinquency court in Orange County. Students in the Youth Justice Clinic have represented children charged with criminal offenses there for many years. He and I were talking, and this lawyer (who is a career prosecutor, having practiced for the past decade) – remarked (unsolicited) that clinic students were ideal to work with: "They are passionate," he said. "They provide excellent representation and they really care about their clients."

So, I thank you. Yes, you earned academic credit for the clinical "course" you took, but you also pursued and promoted justice.

One final note: in a mere four weeks, you will be graduating. (Yes, the end is in sight!) You will be taking the bar, moving away, but allow me to offer a piece of advice: stay connected with us. We care about your growth as members of this profession. We are not only your "teachers," we are your colleagues.

CLEA Outstanding Student Award 2015: Andrea Solorzano

Professor Kathryn Sabbeth then presented the Third Annual CLEA Outstanding Student Award to Andrea Solórzano, a student in the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic [pictured above]:

I’d like start by echoing Prof. Birckhead’s comments recognizing the extraordinary work done by so many of you. I can speak most directly about my own students. This year you worked particularly hard for your clients. Some of you regularly put in late nights, even intruding on family time. You also brought excellent thoughtful attention to your cases, often raising issues I had not considered and causing us to take the cases in new directions. This year has been my sixth at UNC, and I want to share that this year’s class has been the best group of students I have had the privilege to teach here. Working with each and every one of my students this year has truly been a pleasure. So, let me thank you for your excellent work; I hope you all feel very proud of what you’ve accomplished.

This year I also have the privilege of presenting the CLEA Outstanding Student Award. CLEA stands for the Clinical Legal Education Association, which is the primary national organization dedicated to clinical education in law schools across the country. Each year, participating schools nominate one student to be recognized by the association. Here at UNC, this award is given annually to one student based on excellence in clinical work, particularly in development of the attorney-client relationship; in case planning and development; efficiency and reliability in time management; polished oral and written communications; overall significance of casework contributions and contributions to the clinical community at large.

The recipient of UNC’s CLEA Outstanding Student Award for 2015 is Andrea Solorzano. She excelled in all of these categories. Andrea’s combination of initiative, professionalism, and commitment to her clients make her a truly outstanding student.

Andrea is a serious and focused advocate. Andrea worked on some complex material this year that required sophisticated case development and implementation of strategy. But Andrea’s initiative, diligence, and sharp mind were actively engaged even in the seemingly less complex parts of her casework. Here is just one small example from the spring semester. After sending a demand letter to an employer in an unpaid wage case, we received a belated and mildly threatening letter of response. Without panicking or even notifying the rest of her team, within less than 24 hours after the response letter arrived, Andrea emailed us a PDF of that letter with a detailed memo outlining her thoughts on the best response. Her memo incorporated original legal and factual research and analysis concerning the allegations the opposing lawyer made (accusing us of violating consumer protection laws among other things) as well as factual research about the lawyer and his firm. The thoughtfulness of her analysis made the speed with which she turned it around that much more impressive. And, characteristically, she did it without any indication of complaint for the effort expended or a sense of deserving credit for the accomplishment: she just did it as a matter of course in the representation of her client.

Andrea’s initiative and rigor stem from intellectual curiosity and natural diligence, but I believe they also reflect her tenacious dedication to her clients’ interests. Andrea has demonstrated both great compassion and great respect for her clients. While acknowledging the hardships her clients face, she always approaches them in ways that respect the clients’ agency and dignity.

Andrea is also particularly respectful of her colleagues. While she is always quick to volunteer to take on work, she is generous with her praise for other students’ talents and genuinely humble about her own. Andrea is not a student who monopolizes discussions. On the contrary, she thinks very carefully before speaking and, when she speaks, she has something significant to contribute. Andrea is also very open to feedback; when we met part-way through the year as I do with all my students, and I asked her about anything I could to improve the supervison relationship, she suggested I could be less generous and give her more critical feedback on how she could improve. Andrea is the sort of student who is extremely eager to learn and to hone her skills to become an even better advocate.

Andrea brings great talent and intelligence to her work, and is already an extremely impressive advocate. Andrea, if you’ll join me here at the front, it will be my great pleasure to present you with the CLEA Outstanding Student Award for 2015.

Congratulations to all the students who participated in UNC Clinical Programs this year.

Thanks also to our Clinic Staff: Melissa Cobb, Business Officer, and Katie Bucrek, Program Assistant, and to all those administrators and staff around the Law School who support the work that we do.

Posted by Kathryn A. Sabbeth on Tue. April 21, 2015 3:47 PM
Categories: Civil Legal Assistance Clinic, Clinical Programs Events
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