Following training and a tour of
the local tribal court on day 1, Cherokee trip participants put their interpersonal
and hands-on legal skills to the test on days 2 and 3 of the trip.
Day 2-Tsali Manor
On the second day of the trip,
some 16 students participated in wills clinics at the Tsali Manor, a senior
center for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Surrounded by Christmas decor and hanging
Cherokee art and crafts, students worked in teams of two to primarily draft
three types of documents for incoming clients: wills, powers of attorney, and
healthcare powers of attorney.
With no previous experience
working with clients, I was initially apprehensive of my own document-drafting
abilities—especially given the magnitude of these documents in ascertaining the
clients’ final life wishes. However,
most 1Ls, like myself, were paired to work with an upper-class student who had
previously attended the Cherokee trip, or had related clinic experience. Coupled with the supervision of Legal Assistance
Office attorneys and the UNC Law Faculty, my intimidation quickly subsided as
my partner and I worked with our two clients for the day—a husband and wife.
While we only had two clients
that day, our work spanned over two hours in drafting five documents for the
couple. It was a very methodical writing
process, and one that taught us to how to efficiently filter information as we
listened to the clients—we wanted to make sure that we were writing down every
relevant detail as to ensure precision in the document, but we also wanted to
ensure that we were not simply two robots with pens and notepads. So, though the clients had to wait some time
before the final documents were printed, I think they appreciated our efforts
to sincerely hear, enjoy, and engage with their stories. These listening and communication skills will
help us form meaningful client relationships in our legal careers.
Furthermore, I was particularly
struck when the husband went to initial each page of his will. He had Parkinson’s Disease, and initialing
each page of his will proved highly difficult for him. It was tough to sit there, knowing we could
not physically help him, as myself, my partner, and the notary completed the
final steps of his will’s validation.
But we at least knew that he now had a sound will, and as he struggled
to shake our hands at the meeting’s goodbye, there was no better feeling than
knowing that we left him and his wife with a greater peace of mind.
Day 3-Civil Clinic
The third day involved a civil
clinic at local community and education center.
Students, working in their teams, completed wills, divorce, and custody
During the day, my partner and I worked with two
clients. The first client was a woman
seeking sole custody of one of her children and child support. In each meeting, the client became emotional upon
sharing their story. These were very
personal cases; though we read about emotionally sensitive cases in law school
and see them on TV, it was something else to see the client’s emotion up close
through their body language. The client
would start to get teary, and insist they were fine after avoiding eye contact
with us. It was in these moments that we
learned more about how to build trust with clients. We paused our information intake, told the
clients to take their time with what they were sharing, ensured the clients
that their information would remain confidential, and found a tissue box for the
clients when necessary. While we
realized there was a specific task at hand (custody or property paperwork),
nothing trumped the power of human emotion. As good attorneys, we should draft thorough
and accurate documents, but we must never forget the occasional counseling
duties that come with our position.
Posted by Rana J. Odeh on Fri. January 12, 2018 5:28 PM
Winter Break Trip 2017