Class of 2008
Clinical Education Experience
I did not quite know what to expect as a new student in the UND Law Clinic in the spring semester of the 2006-2007 academic year. I was partnered up on a case team with another student, Jeremy Vandehey (Class of 2007), and off we went into the semester.
As the end of January approached, the Clinic was asked to represent a man who faced a hearing on his Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) appeal in the very near term. The WSI hearing was being conducted to decide whether or not the prior termination of his vocational rehabilitation benefits was appropriate. Although it was clear that the case would require a significant amount of work over a very short period of time, the students in the Clinic decided to undertake the representation of this new client. The case was immediately assigned to my case team.
Without much time to contemplate all that would be involved, it became very real, very fast that we were representing an actual person, not simply a hypothetical client. This reality inspired both excitement and fear – this would be our chance to take what we had learned in the classroom and put it into practice.
The first thing that we had to do was meet and establish a rapport with our client. In order to prepare, we had numerous meetings with our supervisor, Professor Margaret Moore Jackson, to go over the many legal and non-legal issues that had already arisen regarding this client. After talking through and simulating possible scenarios, we felt ready for the trip to our client’s home and our first face-to-face meeting with our client. The meeting went extremely well.
After meeting with our client, we had to familiarize ourselves with and find our way through the Workforce Safety and Insurance regulations applicable to our case. On top of this, we worked to reschedule the hearing so that we could coordinate a necessary deposition, ready and file our exhibits, and prepare adequately for an evidentiary proceeding that would include both the presentation of live testimony and oral argument.
All of our work and preparation lead up to the April hearing, which was convened before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Devils Lake, ND. En route to the hearing, Jeremy and I went over our planned direct and cross-examinations. Once we arrived in Devils Lake, we met with our client to again go through his testimony. As we were running through these final preparations, it struck me suddenly that I was responsible not only for all parts of the hearing but also for representing the interests of an individual who just three months earlier had few other places, if any, to turn to for assistance. I was excited and ready.
W arrived at the hearing site, expecting a somewhat informal proceeding to be attended by our client, the WSI representative, and the ALJ, and convened around a table in a conference room. Instead, the hearing had been assigned to a formal courtroom, complete with two counsel tables, a witness stand and a raised bench. The ALJ was adorned in a black robe,.and counsel for WSI had brought with him two expert witnesses from Bismarck. Our preparation proved invaluable as we were not only ready for the anticipated formalities but also for an attempt by the other side to introduce surprise evidence. Our immediate objections and subsequent argument at sidebar resulted in a decision to request the opportunity to brief two new issues, which the ALJ granted. After the presentation of all of the evidence, testimony, and arguments, the hearing had lasted almost 6 hours. I was mentally drained but amazed by the experience.
While we had made a strong case, there was still a mixture of feelings among our group as to how the hearing went and where it would go from here. We left Devils Lake with a real sense of angst as to the pending decision.
Almost 4 months passed without a decision. Then, during the third week in August, we received a lengthy opinion from the ALJ. I opened up the envelope with a hint of apprehension and pulled out the order. In clear detail, the ALJ explained how and why he had found in favor of our client. All the hard work had paid off. And while it was gratifying to know that our team had represented our client to the best of our abilities from the outset, the best part was that he received what he deserved.