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Clinical Programs - Cornell Law School

Our Work

Since the 1970's, clinical courses at Cornell Law School have helped students move beyond the classroom into the world of practice. A variety of courses provide students with opportunities to assume the role of advocate on behalf of real clients with real legal problems. All of this is done under the supervision and mentoring of experienced faculty, who work closely with students to assist their development into excellent, ethical professionals.

To begin the transition from student to practitioner, some students elect to enroll in in-house clinics; others choose to participate in externships. Each clinic provides opportunities for developing skills that are crucial to the practice of law.

In-house Clinic students represent clients in real practice settings, through which they engage in the practical application of the skills being learned in non-clinical courses, and the development of an array of other critical lawyering skills. The variety of skills students develop includes:

  • Interviewing
  • Fact investigation
  • Client counseling
  • Case management
  • Use of discovery tools
  • Development of legal theories and themes
  • Drafting of various legal documents
  • Identification and resolution of ethical challenges
  • Trial and hearing skills

In some clinics, students will appear before administrative tribunals or courts, which will require them to employ pre-trial and trial skills. In nearly all clinics, students will engage in interviewing and client counseling; legal research and writing of documents and memoranda of law. Some students will argue before appellate courts. In whatever tasks they engage, all clinic students experience the unique learning that arises from performing legal work on behalf of an actual client, and seeing the impact of law and legal institutions on those clients.

Externship Students may also be involved in direct representation of individual, group, or institutional clients. In other settings, students may focus more on research and writing projects, and observe lawyers in their offices conducting an array of tasks such as negotiating, conducting depositions, and doing trials. In still others, students will act as law clerks to judges, performing research, writing draft opinions and sitting in on conferences and trials. In all externships, students are able to engage their supervising lawyers and judges in discussions about their work, their lives as practitioners, their understandings of the impact of their work, and numerous other topics that arise in the course of the externship.

Clinical students are enthusiastic about the opportunity to do real lawyering. They are challenged by their work, and often feel transformed by the experience. The development of professional skills is only a part of what they learn. Equally as important is the profound sense of service, of professional responsibility, and of accomplishment. Most clinic students identify their clinical course as one of the highlights of their law school education.

The numerous clinics offered at Cornell provide different opportunities, and engage the student in different areas of law and practice. Each clinic has a separate web page on which you will find detailed information about the nature of the legal work in which you would be engaged.

Please visit each clinic page, or review the clinical programs brochure, to explore the variety of opportunities that await you.