My experience in the Children’s Justice Clinic has been the best part of my law school career. The opportunity to participate in the CJC was the reason I wanted to come to Rutgers-Camden, and it has surpassed all of my expectations.
As a future public defender I cannot recommend this clinic highly enough. I had many opportunities to improve my advocacy skills by negotiating with the prosecutor or arguing my client’s case to the judge. I also had the opportunity to counsel my clients as to their best options and interact with them, their families and friends, and their services providers on a daily basis. Professors Simkins and Lore let the students “own” their cases. One of the most exciting parts from an educational stand-point is that they allow us to be the lawyers. We make the decisions, draft the letters, write the motions, argue in court and negotiate with the prosecutor. While all of our work is done and approved by our experienced professors, they take a hands-off approach and allow us to develop the case from start to finish. In this regard, there has been no experience more satisfying than receiving a favorable outcome for my clients. I have not felt a rush of adrenaline that compares since my field hockey days in college.
This year my partner and I received two of the most favorable, yet unique dispositions our judges’ had ever seen. In two cases where both young men were on their um-teenth adjudication and were destined for incarceration, my partner and I developed a comprehensive plan to keep our kids in the home with services that would best serve their rehabilitation. This meant working with service providers to ensure the right programs were in place and were ready to be implemented upon release, working with local schools to make sure their educational needs and goals would be met, and finding our clients an appropriate home with supervision the court would find suitable. We spent many long nights, hours on the phone coordinating their plans and several trips to detention halls, but in the end our clients received the best outcome possible. For the first time in five years our client was released back into the community because of our advocacy. For our other client, we packed a small Camden courtroom with twenty people (a rare site to see) and gave the judge a letter of recommendation from each person as to why our client’s needs would be best served under their care rather than the state’s. An overwhelming site to see, the judge ultimately agreed.
Not only does the CJC provide students with the chance to work with clients and their support systems, but I had the unique experience of practicing in three different counties (Camden, Gloucester and Cumberland) and in front of four different judges. Each judge and each county required something different from me and my partner; therefore we learned how to adapt to new and sometimes, unfriendly, environments in appropriate but forceful manners. The experience of having to tailor our argument and negotiation styles to each courtroom is a skill that benefited my clients tremendously, and I am sure it will prove most useful in my future career.
Lastly, the CJC provides students the opportunity to offer the city of Camden and its neighboring counties with a much needed service. We are not only their lawyers, but we work on a holistic approach to ensure all of our client’s needs are met – my one client had delinquency, dependency, special education, and mental and behavioral health issues and my partner and I were an integral part in making sure all of his needs were met and addressed. CJC is a unique and invaluable part of the South Jersey community, our law school and for those who participate, our lives. For those students who have never worked for those silenced voices, it is a chance to see what impact pro bono work can have on the community and the individual recipient. And for those, like me, who have long since determined this is their career path, it is a great way to learn how to be a lawyer, under the guidance and experience of two excellent advocates, but more importantly, it is a chance to make sure one child’s voice is heard. With all that said, I was honored to be a part of this program and to have the privilege to defend the rights of children.
Bev Beaver, Class of 2011
My experience in the clinic has been the best of my law school career. I’ve acquired a great deal of practical legal knowledge throughout the year and my experience has only reinforced my desire to litigate and try cases. Just last month, my partner and I received our first ‘not guilty’ verdict. I haven’t felt a charge like that since I played football. We had worked countless hours prepping for trial and briefing issues for the judge just to arrive at the moment. And what made the whole experience even better was the relief that poured forth from our client and her mother. For the past five months, this case had been the most important thing in their lives and if we lost, this young woman was facing serious sanctions. To witness that burden being lifted was really moving.
Furthermore, the Clinic does great work in Camden and the surrounding counties. The goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate, not punish. With that underlying goal in mind, we do much more than just offer legal services. We monitor the kids after they are adjudicated; following their progress through probation and incarceration. We work with their county service providers to ensure that the kids are enrolled in programs that keep them busy, address their mental and physical needs, and further their education. Along with this holistic approach, the clinic takes the time to litigate in a manner that is most beneficial to the client rather than in furtherance of the rote process of accepting deals just to move the case along. We file motions, brief issues, and negotiate with an eye towards better serving our clients and their needs. Slowly but surely, the CJC is changing how the juvenile justice system in New Jersey does business. I am glad that I can say I played a part in that advancement.
Carton Rogers Class of 2011
Participating in the Children's Justice Clinic was an experience that will stick with me for the rest of my legal career. Working with two passionate advocates for social justice in a city desperate for their services, Professor Lore and Professor Simkins, to represent youths caught in the juvenile justice system was not only personally rewarding, but showed me the power and responsibility lawyers have when people literally place their lives in your hands. I walked into the Clinic excited about developing my legal skills through practice and experience and I walked out of the clinic confident that I can practice law at the highest level.
From an educational standpoint, there is no better way to learn how to be a lawyer than living and breathing the practice of law, which is exactly what participating in the Children's Justice Clinic allowed me to do while being supported by the guiding hands of my professors. I could not have received better mentoring, the result of which allowed my partner and I to achieve phenomenal results for our clients. Through the clinic, I learned how to counsel my clients from the beginning to the end of their cases. I handled discovery, coordinated a team of investigators, prepared exhibits, direct and cross examinations and filed multiple briefs and motions in juvenile and municipal court. I won my first trial, a thrill I will never forget and the gratitude my clients expressed at the hard work my partner and I put into their cases, motivated by the enduring support of my professors, gave me a whole new perspective on why I want to be a lawyer.
As lawyers we have a special responsibility to represent the underrepresented and be a voice and an advocate for those who have the hardest time advocating for themselves. The Children's Justice Clinic gave me the opportunity to do just. The reputation of the Clinic speaks for itself and it was an honor to be associated with the program.
Rachel Gallagher, Class of 2011
The Children's Justice Clinic was one of the main elements that attracted me to Rutgers School of Law - Camden. Yet, while I shared a passion for its goals and mission before entering law school, I could not have foreseen that this opportunity would exceed my expectations in every way. Participating in Clinic has been the most rewarding and challenging experience I have been presented with, and I have found it to be both eye-opening and career-defining.
Through the Children's Justice Clinic, I have developed practical lawyering skills that are simply unattainable in the classroom setting. Working under the supervision of Professors Lore and Simkins, my partner and I conducted discovery and client interviews, negotiated with a Camden County prosecutor, made strategic decisions affecting our client's case, prepared cross examinations and detention arguments, and began to develop our courtroom presence and the confidence needed to become an effective advocate.
This opportunity to engage in hands-on representation is priceless for any law student. Not only do I feel much more prepared to enter the practice of law, but have gained valuable skills and experience that have helped to set me apart and interest employers in this difficult job market. Furthermore, I have realized that a possible career may lie ahead for me in criminal defense and public interest, which I had never before considered. At the same time, I have been able to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our clients, by providing much-needed legal service to them during a time of crisis when a significant loss of liberty hangs in the balance.
Most importantly, our work in the Children's Justice Clinic does not start and end at the courtroom door. By identifying our clients' needs and goals, and helping them to obtain services and get their lives on a positive track, I have seen young clients faced with delinquency problems and seemingly insurmountable odds, begin to envision a meaningful future for themselves. There are simply no words to capture the feeling of making a difference in a young person’s life. The Children's Justice Clinic is an asset to both the Camden community and Rutgers School of Law. I would recommend that every student, no matter their aspiration, experience this program during their study of law. Without question, it has been the highlight of my legal education!
Christine Emery, Class of 2011
"The Children's Justice Clinic was the highlight of my law school experience at Rutgers. It was an incredibly rewarding and challenging program that put me directly in the role of a lawyer and an advocate representing juveniles in Camden - under the supervision of a practicing attorney, of course. The breadth of areas my partner and I experienced was amazing. In just one of our three cases during the semester, we had the opportunity to conduct an initial intake interview with a client, negotiate a plea deal with a Camden County prosecutor, prepare for and conduct a full trial, and argue a disposition before a judge, all while maintaining constant contact with the client and ensuring his continued well-being. The Children's Justice Clinic provides excellent training and experience for future practicing attorneys.
What makes the Clinic even more special is the goal embodying its creation - to help juveniles living in one of the most impoverished cities in America who are in trouble and in need of holistic representation by working with them to create better opportunities for their lives. Under the guidance and supervision of Professors Simkins and Lore, we had an opportunity to directly experience the challenges and troubles faced by the youth in the greater Camden community outside the walls of our law school. The passion and commitment both professors brought to the Clinic empowered us to realize that we as mere law students could effect positive change. I am excited to see the outstanding work Professors Simkins and Lore along with future Clinic students continue to perform for the youth of Camden in the coming years."
Jon Pentzien, Class of 2007
CJC is a must-take course for students looking to get out of class and begin practicing law. I came looking for trial experience, and I found myself and my partner conducting discovery, interviewing potential witnesses, visiting the scene where our client was arrested, creating exhibits, making strategic decisions like deciding whether our client would take the stand, scripting and practicing cross examinations, and conducting a full trial. We actually got to cross examine a New Jersey State Trooper. And we did all of this with years of liberty at stake for our clients.
But it's not all about trial. I worked on several cases with my partner over the course of the term. We interviewed and counseled our clients as well as our clients, parents and guardians. We met with probation officers. We represented clients at pre-trial hearings. We negotiated with prosecutors. We represented clients at post-trial proceedings. And we found creative ways to make sure our clients were getting the services they needed.
Not only did we get great practical experience, but we had an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of our clients as well as on the juvenile justice system in Camden County. I saw demeanors change when people realized they were interacting with people who cared.