ONU Law’s Labor and Employment Law Practicum course gave several students the opportunity to hone practical lawyering skills, including client communication, legal research, and written and oral advocacy. The semester-long simulation course, which took place in the spring, required students to work with a partner to represent a particular client in an employment discrimination case. Together, students had to decide how to pursue potential claims or how to defend the claims brought against their client.
This was a chance for students to manage a mock case (based on real events) from start to finish – from gathering the facts and conducting an investigation to representing clients in litigation. To make the simulation as realistic as possible, professor Dallan Flake hired several students to play the parts of various clients and witnesses throughout the case. The student-actors had to take their role very seriously by staying fully in character every time they interacted with student-attorneys in the class. This involved familiarizing themselves with background materials pertaining to the facts of the case, making themselves available to the student-attorneys to be interviewed and deposed, and responding in character to student-attorneys’ phone calls and emails.
Third-year student Berenice Arroyo-Arellano was given the lead role of Jenny Isom, a perioperative nurse at Cleveland Mercy Hospital who made several allegations of sexual harassment by her coworkers during her time at the hospital. Playing this role required Arroyo-Arellano to memorize a new identity, with intricate facts and details. The most challenging part was portraying Jenny in a convincing manner so that the student-attorneys felt like they were genuinely representing a person who had endured a traumatic experience. “I wanted to make sure that I provided the best experience for the student-attorneys,” she says. “I would spend hours on end memorizing the facts and making sure that I acted as Jenny as best I could.” Arroyo-Arellano appreciated the professionalism, diligence and attentiveness of the student-attorneys. “They learned an immense amount of skills ranging from professionalism to client interactions. The content of the case was very graphic, and they were very good about making all interactions comfortable ones.”
The course did not follow a conventional classroom schedule but instead unfolded like litigation often does in the real world: move by move. Many of the legal issues facing the student-attorneys depended on the moves of opposing counsel. While student-attorneys sometimes had days or weeks to prepare certain documents for the client, other legal issues would arise that demanded immediate attention, requiring students to work quickly and efficiently (and sometimes late into the night). “At times, students felt like there was no clear direction,” says Flake. “But real litigation is like that sometimes. This is a class where students learn what lawyers do and how the legal process happens. It’s all about learning in a safe environment, where it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them.”
While the unpredictability of the course could frustrate student-attorneys at times, it was an eye-opening experience to understand how flexible and adaptable good lawyers must be. Second-year student Marissa Rossetti believes the course provided practical training for a mix of skills every lawyer is expected to understand and perform outside of law school. The experience challenged her to go outside her comfort zone, test her abilities and learn valuable lessons for life after graduation. “The full simulation showed me that I’m capable of doing more than I thought in terms of advocating, case preparation and meeting deadlines like it will be outside of school one day,” she says. “Taking a course like this will test you in a good way, because one day we will have our own cases where we advocate for real people, and this gives you an idea of what you’re capable of doing for your future clients.”