Chapter 4: Building your Skillset

Law Clinic students in the Bond University Law Library. © Bond University.

4.1 Introduction

In the last chapter we focused on ways to make the best of your clinic journey. We now consider more closely how you could develop practical skills which will not only prepare you for legal practice, but any other career path you may choose to follow. Developing these skills will also – in the shorter term – assist you in the successful completion of your law degree, at least from a skills perspective. Of course, by the time you graduate, you will have also attained a strong knowledge base in some of the most important areas of law (if you listened well in class and did all your readings). In this chapter we focus on the importance of professional and practical aspects of your clinical journey, and the benefits of improving these skills and attributes during your clinic experience. 

4.2 Ethical behaviour – The keystone of legal practice

4.2.1 What is an ethical lawyer?

An important aspect of legal practice is the need to always behave ethically – during your clinic experience this is something that will be emphasised by your supervisor. What does that mean to you? Ethical behaviour applies to many activities and scenarios you will face in dealing with clients, client files and court matters in your clinic experience. It includes issues such as conflicts of interest, client confidentiality, a lawyer’s duty to the court, honest conduct and acting on instructions. Of course, as a law student you are not able to provide legal advice as you are not an admitted solicitor, but you may be dealing directly with clinic clients and matters during your placement. It is pivotal that you act ethically in all your dealings with clinic clients, supervising solicitors and your peers, and that you check with your supervisor if you have any doubts or concerns about the conduct of activities or ethical behaviour in the clinic. Much of what is prescribed comes down to common sense and an innate sense of what is right and wrong. For example, as a lawyer you cannot act for a client and then, after being the recipient of their confidential information, switch sides and act for the opposing party – that would clearly be unethical. You also cannot act for two opposing parties simultaneously, or where there is a potential for conflict occurring between them, as that would be a conflict of interest. 

4.2.2 Your ethical behaviour in the clinic

As a law student you will be expected to adhere to the guidelines, practices and procedures prescribed in your clinic. These may vary between clinic models, but the same foundational ethics requirements will apply in all legal clinics.  This includes the same issues considered by lawyers in practice, such as:

      • Client confidentiality
      • Avoiding any conflicts of interest
      • Being honest and transparent in all your dealings (with clinic clients, your peers and your supervisors)
      • Acting on instructions

As means that, as a clinic student, you should always:

      • Maintain confidentiality of client’s confidential information
      • Assist the supervising lawyers in identifying any conflicts of interest
      • Act honestly and fairly in the client’s best interests, as well as being transparent and forthright in dealing with peers and supervisors
      • Follow instructions given to you by your supervising lawyer

In addition, law students must not hold themselves out as lawyers or otherwise imply that they are lawyers.

Client Confidentiality 

Law clinics, like law firms, have a contractual duty to keep their clients’ records and information confidential, subject to overriding legal duties, or where the client has given their informed consent to particular disclosure. This means that clinic lawyers and students must not disclose to a third party, any client information that has come to them in the course of their work.

It also means that clinic lawyers and students must not remove any documents from the Clinic premises, nor keep them on electronic devices or email them to external emails or devices where they may be accessed by third parties.

Conflict Checks  

Conflict checks on the client and other parties will usually be carried out as far as possible by the clinic administrators prior to appointment, but this is not always possible with walk-in clients.  Clinic lawyers are also responsible for conducting conflict checks and there will be systems in place to deal with matters where a conflict arises. The client may be referred to an alternate community legal centre or the Queensland Law Society or other relevant Law Society for a referral.

4.2.2 Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules

Guidance for the conduct of legal practitioners is set out in the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012[1]. The ASCR Rules provide guidance on:

      • Fundamental duties of solicitors in relation to their conduct;
      • Relations with clients, including communication, confidentiality, conflicts and client documents;
      • Advocacy and litigation, including avoiding personal bias, formality and frankness in court, responsible use of court process and privilege, communication with opponents and witnesses, integrity of evidence and public comment;
      • Relations with other solicitors and other parties; and
      • Law practice management.

4.3 Interviewing skills

4.3.1 Interviewing clients

The interviewing process[2] is an important part of being an effective lawyer. During the interview, the client will explain their problem and the lawyer will take notes – this is called “taking instructions”. As a clinic student, this is your opportunity to hone your abilities and gain confidence in interviewing clients and taking instructions.

An interview can essentially be broken up into four parts:

      • Icebreaking
      • Initial problem identification
      • Information gathering
      • Closing

a. Icebreaking

In client interviews a few moments of small talk will allow the client to relax, lets them know that you are sensitive to their needs and gives them confidence in your ability. By establishing rapport, lawyers encourage clients to provide required information. This is your opportunity to learn how to communicate with clients and make them feel at ease.

b. Initial problem identification

No lawyer can solve a client’s problem without the help of that client. Throughout the preliminary problem identification students should use open-ended questions, active listening, and structural guides to encourage a client to continue describing the problem. Examples of structural guide questions would be:

“Can you give me a brief description of your problem, how it arose, and what solution you hope to find?”

“Please start by giving me a description of your problem, whatever concerns you may have, and how you would like things to turn out.”

A useful way to conclude this section of the interview is to summarise the client’s problem. Brief summaries of this sort, conveyed to the client using their own words where possible, encourage rapport by showing the interviewer is listening and that they understand the client’s problem.

c. Information gathering

There should be two phases of information gathering:

      • the timeline phase; and
      • the theory development and verification phase.

During the timeline phase, a student seeks to create a chronological, step-by-step narrative of events giving rise to a client’s problem. The chronology begins with whatever the client believes first gave rise to the problem and continues to the time of the interview. A timeline story will suggest a number of potentially applicable legal theories. During theory development the student tailors the conversation based on their legal theories and need for specific information. Students develop interviewing skills by learning which questions to ask and how to ask them.

Students should be aware of those factors which inhibit and those factors which facilitate client participation. Factors that inhibit client communication include information which the client perceives as threatening their self-esteem or their case, or which they consider irrelevant. They may also be inhibited by their expectations of the lawyer-client role, their reluctance to discuss taboo subjects or by a preoccupation with another subject. On the other hand, factors that facilitate client communication include:

  • empathetic understanding;
  • conveying an expectation that information is revealed;
  • recognition of client contribution;
  • appealing to the client’s altruism (selflessness); and
  • indicating why information is useful to the client’s case.

Once a student becomes familiar with and learns to recognise and use inhibitors and facilitators, they must carefully choose the form of questions in order to fully maximize the information they are gathering.

You may be expected to participate and/or conduct client interviews in the clinic. However, your role is one of information gathering and not one of providing legal advice – that is the role of your supervising lawyer.

d. Closing

An interview should be closed with an understanding between the student and client as to the client’s status with their case, the actions to be taken by the student under the guidance of their supervising lawyer, and the client, and a brief assessment of the client’s circumstances. Identifying possible actions to be undertaken fosters client confidence, avoids miscommunication, and helps expedite matters. Note that any legal advice needs to be provided by your supervising lawyer.

4.3.2 Elements of the interview:  Anatomy and structure 

In his book “Client interviewing for lawyers”, Avrom Sherr describes the interviewing tasks by stages[3] – this provides a useful framework for students to conduct a successful client interview:

  1. Greet, seat and introduce;
  2. Elicit story with opening questions, etc;
  3. Listen carefully to basic outline of personalities and case from client’s own words.
Note Taking 
  1. Question on facts for gaps, depth, background, ambiguities and relevance;
  2. Sum up and recount lawyer’s view of facts and check for client’s agreement or amend. 
Note Taking 
  1. State advice and/or plan of action and deal with question of funds;
  2. Repeat advice/plan of action and check for client’s agreement or amend;
  3. Recount follow-up work to be done by client;
  4. Recount follow-up work to be done by lawyer;
  5. State next contact between lawyer and client;
  6. Ask if ‘any Other Business” and deal with it;
  7. Terminate, help out and goodbye.
Note Taking 


4.3.3 The first interview

Libby Taylor[4] suggests the following useful steps for new lawyers in conducting an interview:

  1. Begin to establish rapport in meet, greet, seat phase.

   2. Explain to the client the format for the interview, client and lawyer roles in the process, especially lawyer/client confidentiality.

   3. Obtain details about the client’s background.

   4. Preliminary problem identification:

      • The client explains problem and the lawyer gains a general understanding of the type of matter and parties involved,
      • The client’s main concerns are obtained.

   5. The client then tells their story in chronological sequence:

      • This requires effective use of communication skills including – listening, acknowledging, questioning, summary, clarification and organisational skills to elicit relevant facts.

   6. Ensure you exhaust the client’s knowledge and memory of relevant facts.

   7. Identify the main issues for resolution and provide preliminary advice to the client if appropriate, taking into account the needs and desires of the client (assuming they are realistic). In this phase options should be identified and explored, and also weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. Formulate a “plan of action” going forward and involve the client in the process.

   8. Recap, summarise and check that all relevant details have been obtained.

   9. Finally offer appropriate advice to the client, or defer giving advice until all information is obtained, investigations and research completed.

  10. Confirm in summary future progress with the client, and discuss the issue of fees, retainer and costs agreement.

  11. Inform and encourage the client to keep in contact on a realistic basis.

  12. Ensure the client understands what has happened and what will happen.

  13. Confirm the next step and/or meeting.

  14. Conclude the interview appropriately.

4.4 Communication skills

4.4.1 Communicating in different forums

In terms of developing communication skills, it is important to differentiate between client interviewing and courtroom advocacy, which involve different skills and perspectives. It is unlikely that you will be given an opportunity to practice your own advocacy skills in the clinic environment; however, you may be able to observe experienced legal practitioners or prosecutors leading arguments in court, depending on the type of clinic you are attending. You will note how client interviews often resemble “counselling”, whereas advocacy skills involve stronger elements of reasoning and argument. The role of the advocate is different from the role of the advisor,[5] and this is also reflected in the use of language and communication. During your law degree these communication skills may typically be incorporated into your law degree through activities such as client interviews, negotiations, oral presentations and mooting. In the clinic environment, you have the opportunity of experiencing “real world” client issues and cases, and it is important to seize opportunities to develop a diverse set of communication skills in different forums. Speaking to a client will usually require a different approach (and different language) from addressing a judge or a fellow colleague – the context will dictate your communication.

4.4.2 Tips for improving your communication skills

Eye contact: Make eye contact with your audience – avoid reading from notes.  Whether dealing with clients, colleagues or judges, effective communication relies on forging a connection that is facilitated by eye contact.

Diction: Speak clearly and slowly to create understanding. If dealing with a non-English speaking client, ensure that they understand you or consider involving an interpreter to communicate effectively.

Language: Use plain English – steer away from complex legal terminology when speaking to a lay person or client. Even when speaking in a legal forum such as a court, a simpler explanation is often more effective than convoluted or theory-heavy explanations (where the circumstances allow).

Obtaining information: Ask relevant questions to elicit the response you want. This is particularly true of interviewing clients to extract all the information you need that will allow you to pinpoint the client’s problem and legal issues that you need to research; and which your supervising lawyer will require to provide the client with legal advice. If the client is unsure or does not have the relevant information on hand, identify what needs to be obtained before advice can be provided.

Rely on your mentor: If in doubt, ask your clinic supervisor – ensure you have open lines of communication. The clinic is a learning experience and rather than make assumptions or rely on guesswork, ensure that you address any concerns you may have, or lack of clarity in taking client instructions with your supervisor.

4.4.3 Clients with behavioural issues

On some occasions, clients of the clinic may present as aggressive or unreasonable.

Check on your clinic’s policy in relation to clients who present with problem behaviours, as the safety and welfare of all attendees should be a priority of the clinic. The clinic should have security measures in place to deal with these incidents. Generally, clinics will not provide services to a client who is threatening, abusive or alcohol or substance affected. You should remain calm and call your supervising clinic lawyer for assistance should this occur. You should ensure that you are never in a situation where you are left alone with a client. Appropriate safeguards include:

      • ensuring your supervising lawyer (or another lawyer) is always close by
      • familiarising yourself with the operation of security access at the clinic
      • “checking in” on clinic colleagues if you hear raised or angry voices from an interview room.

The clinic should be a safe place for students, supervising lawyers and clients. If at any time you feel threatened, fearful or intimidated, seek help immediately – you are not expected to deal with such circumstances on your own.

4.5 Writing skills

Clinics offer a great opportunity for you to improve your general and legal writing skills. This depends on the type of clinic, of course, but client advice clinics, research clinics, project-based clinics and clinics dealing with court matters all involve some aspects of writing. During your placement you may gain experience in:

      • Writing file notes
      • Drafting legal advice and legal letters
      • Conducting and summarising research
      • Drafting counsel briefs

You can improve your writing skills in the clinic by taking the following steps:

  1. Follow instructions: Pay close attention to and follow your supervisor’s instructions when undertaking any writing activities. If you are given a template of the expected format for your file note/advice letter/etc., make sure you follow it accurately.
  2. Practice your writing: Writing is a skill that improves with practice. Seek out opportunities to improve your writing wherever possible.
  3. Always ask for feedback: Receiving constructive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement and make revisions.
  4. Other ways to improve your legal writing skills are to take writing classes if your law school offers such opportunities, and to study grammar and style guides (as well as referencing guides where research is concerned) to improve your understanding of language structure and usage, and to help express yourself more clearly.

Your supervisor will expect you to write in plain English rather than in legalese and be able to convey your understanding to the reader. Focusing on honing your writing skills will not only prepare you better for the workplace, but also help you in your further studies and general communication skills.

4.5.1 Taking accurate file notes

When taking file notes, it is important to take notes during the interview, rather than afterwards. This can help to capture important information, avoid confusion, and reduce the risk of forgetting important details. The file note needs to be detailed enough to clarify what the client said and which issues they raised. Ask the client to clarify anything that is unclear or confusing. File notes should only convey the content of the interview, not your personal thoughts or assumptions. They should be clear and concise, and structured in such a way that your supervisor will be able to have a clear record of what was discussed during the interview. Omission of important facts or misinterpretation of what the client said could result in misunderstanding and incorrect advice.

After the interview, bear in mind the importance of confidentiality of any information obtained from the client and ensure that your file note is securely recorded and filed as instructed by your supervisor. It is also pivotal to review your file note as soon as possible after the client interview and amend it if necessary. Finally, your supervisor will need to review and sign off on your file note to ensure it is an accurate reflection of the client’s instructions.

4.5.2 Dealing with review and feedback

Students are often concerned about obtaining feedback in case it is negative or critical. However, your time at the clinic is an opportunity for you to learn, and your supervisor is there to mentor you and facilitate learning. It is up to you to ensure that you get the most out of your experience and seek constant feedback on your tasks.

Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor questions and be specific in your questions. This will result in more detailed and useful feedback. Being proactive in seeking feedback shows that you are willing to learn from your mistakes. Try to schedule regular meetings with your supervisor to discuss your work and make sure you incorporate their comments and suggestions. Afterwards, follow up with your supervisor to let them know how you have incorporated their suggestions into your work.

Always be open to criticism. Even if constructive criticism can be difficult to hear, all students need feedback for growth and improvement. The important thing is that you show a willingness to improve, and that you maintain a respectful and professional relationship with your supervisor. Once you enter practice (or another related profession) you will find that being able to deal effectively with constructive feedback is an important skill in the workplace.

4.6 Research and technology skills

As noted above, your opportunities for skills development will largely depend on the type of clinic you are engaged in. For example, there are clinics that specifically focus on legal technology and others which are research or project based. You would have already considered what type of clinic experience would benefit you most at this point in your studies.

The research activities you undertake will depend on the objectives of your clinic and the nature of the project/case/issue you are tasked with. However, some general pointers are provided below for you to consider.

4.6.1 Foundational research skills

If your clinic offers the opportunity for legal research, here are some basic ground rules for conducting your research:

  1. Clarify instructions: Clarify with your supervisor the issues and area of law you should be researching, the objectives of your research, and the expected format of your research report.
  2. Sources: Only use reputable and trustworthy sources, such as primary materials (for example, statutes and case law) and secondary sources (for example, textbooks, commentaries, and journal articles). If using internet resources, ensure that they are correct and reliable (for example, Government websites).
  3. Using legal research tools: Subject to your supervisor’s instructions, you could consult library databases such as Westlaw, LexisNexis or HeinOnline and Government websites and publications as a starting point for your search.
  4. Analyse and apply: After summarising your research, you should analyse and evaluate the information you found, apply it to the legal issue/matter in question, and use it to support your arguments and conclusions.
  5. It is important to cite your sources correctly and in an appropriate referencing style. If quoting from a source, the words should be placed in quotation marks and properly referenced to avoid plagiarism.

The types of sources you will focus on depend on your clinic. For example, if you are researching the legislative structures for cyber security in various jurisdictions for an internet law clinic, your research will likely be statute-based. If, on the other hand, you are researching a child custody issue in a family law clinic, your research may be both statute and case law based.

4.6.2 Technology in CLE

The extent to which clinics may accommodate the development of technology skills varies depending on the type of clinic – however, post-COVID 19, many clinic programs have incorporated a higher degree of technology in their operations. This is true of many client advice-based clinics where clients may be interviewed on online platforms such as Zoom and lawyers and students may join online. Many project-based clinics now also include remote attendance and participation opportunities. Because the use of technology has allowed for students to participate online in some clinic opportunities, it has also raised new opportunities for technological skills development. These opportunities should be embraced by clinic students as skills that are transferrable into legal practice. Given the rapid development of technological advances in legal practice and online file management, employers expect at least a reasonable level of legal technology knowledge in graduate lawyers.

As a clinic student, you may be able to gain insight and knowledge into the following areas of technology and related skills:

      • Engaging in and communicating effectively in online meetings.
      • Building rapport online (with clients and supervising lawyers) through eye contact and interaction.
      • Using online platforms such as Zoom and Teams effectively.
      • Familiarising yourself with the available tools on online platforms, such as break-out rooms, chat facilities, etc.
      • Electronic file management.
      • Cyber security issues.
      • Online policies and procedures.
      • Privacy and confidentiality online.
      • Intellectual property issues.

If in doubt about any technology related issues, ask your supervisor. Each clinic will have its own guidelines, policies and procedures that need to be complied with, and you need to familiarise yourself with these before and during your time at the clinic. Most importantly, remember that ethical, professional, and legal considerations apply in the online world just as they do in the “brick and mortar” world.

4.7 Organisational skills development: A recipe for success

The clinic offers an ideal environment within which to hone your organisational skills. Also, the better organised you are in your approach, the more beneficial your experience will be. This includes being able to plan ahead and structuring your time in the clinic effectively to ensure you get the most out of your experience.

4.7.1 Time management

You may already be utilising some of the suggestions below, but here are some helpful hints for managing your time in the clinic effectively:

  1. Schedule your time and be organised: Use a calendar to schedule your clinic placement, making allowance for travel time to ensure you are punctual. Avoid last-minute scrambling by being prepared – read all the relevant information ahead of time so that you don’t waste time catching up or asking questions that you should have known in advance.
  2. Communicate with your supervisor: If you expect to run late or miss any of the clinic activities, ensure that you inform your supervisor in advance, as this may impact on clinic arrangements.
  3. Prioritise tasks in the clinic: Based on your supervisor’s guidance and instructions, identify the most important tasks to be carried out and prioritise them, ensuring that you take notes and keep a list of what needs to be done. If unsure, always check with your supervisor.
  4. Break tasks into smaller chunks: Break larger tasks into smaller chunks to make them more manageable and less overwhelming. For example, if you are given a legal issue to research, break it down into a summary of facts, issues and sub-issues, and the applicable law. Ask for guidance if you’re unsure which sources to consult first – your supervisor is there to mentor you.
  5. Use a timer: If you tend to lose track of time, a timer on your phone may help you stay on track and avoid running late or overtime. This may be an important issue when dealing with clients in a limited window of time, such as a weekly clinic night.
  6. Avoid distractions and unnecessary interruptions: Focus on the tasks at hand and ignore private messages/emails on your phone during clinic. Be aware of and eliminate distractions such as social media and other non-essential activities to help you stay focused on your tasks. Don’t be distracted by idle conversation with fellow students – it’s up to you to ensure your time is used constructively.
  7. Make time to take short breaks if needed: If you require a break during the clinic or are adversely affected by any of your client dealings, ensure that you approach your supervisor immediately. The clinic should be a safe and secure environment where students are able to express their concerns and take breaks when needed.

4.7.2 Tools and templates, calendars and planning

There are several online tools available to help you manage your time effectively. These apps and resources may apply to time management in general, but can be very useful in your clinic placement. Some suggestions include the following:

  1. Consider a calendar app: These can be used to schedule appointments, set reminders, and manage deadlines. Popular calendar apps include Outlook and Google Calendar.
  2. Investigate to-do list apps: These apps can be used to create and manage task lists, set reminders, and prioritise tasks. Popular to-do list apps include Todoist, Trello, and Wunderlist.
  3. Try a time tracking app: These apps are typically used to track how much time is spent on different tasks and activities. It can help you identify where time is being wasted and adjust your activities to improve efficiency. Popular time tracking apps include RescueTime, Toggl, and Harvest.
  4. Apply a mind mapping app: These apps can be used to organise thoughts and ideas and plan projects and may assist you with generating approaches to problem solving in the clinic. Popular mind mapping apps include Xmind, MindNode and MindMeister.
  5. Use templates and fact sheets: Your supervisors may have access to templates and fact sheets to assist you in your clinic activities, for example, step-by-step instructions for dealing with common legal issues such as debt recovery or court appearances. You may also find some of these resources online, for example on the Queensland Courts or LawRight websites.

You may already be using some of these apps or accessing these resources. It is advisable to try different options to determine which apps work best for you and to opt for free apps wherever possible. When using online legal resources, ensure that they are from a reliable source such as a government website and that they apply to your jurisdiction.

4.8 Reflective practices

Photo by Ian Wagg on Unsplash

Reflective practice is an important part of the clinic experience. Evans et al have pointed out that many Australian clinical legal educators from a broad range of programs have ‘consistently identified reflection as central to the clinical legal education process, many calling it a ‘minimum standard’ for CLE programs.’[6] This means that most clinics involve some form of reflective practice, i.e. an expectation that students are able to reflect on and learn from their personal clinic experience. This may take the form of workshop participation, presentations, debriefs, reflective essays and journal entries.

Reflection allows you to examine and reflect on your ethical and social awareness and show how you benefited from the clinic experience in relation to a range of activities and issues, for example, dealing with substantive law, drafting, negotiating, communication skills, self-organisation, and law reform process. Specialist clinics may also have exposed you to specific areas of law such as family law, internet law or criminal law, which will each have associated benefits. Depending on whether your experience was positive or negative, it may have also cemented your decision to avoid or pursue a specific area of law. These insights provide an invaluable life experience, and are worthy of reflection.

From your perspective as a clinic student, reflective practice is an opportunity to:

      • Keep a journal of your clinic experience, irrespective of the reflective activity associated with the clinic. This is good practice for entering the workplace and will help you recall details of cases and clients when doing a reflective assessment.
      • Consider and reflect on the impact and reach of your allocated clinic, as well as the scope of its services.
      • Reflect on your own clinic experience – both the positive and negative aspects – and consider why you perceived them as such.
      • Review each clinic activity you engaged in and consider how it impacted you personally and professionally.
      • Consider what impact you made in your role as a student in the context of community service.
      • Ask: ‘What have I learnt/gained’? Think widely in terms of knowledge of the law, communication skills, confidence-building and networking, in addition to other skills gained.
      • Question how you could have done better and the steps you need to take to improve in the future.

4.9 Meeting expectations: Clients’, supervisors’ and your own

During your clinic placement you may feel under pressure to meet expectations – this may take the form of assessments, client expectations or your own expectations. It is important to keep a balanced perspective in all of this – you are undertaking a learning experience in the clinic, and no one expects you to be perfect or to know everything. In fact, it is important to realise that you still lack knowledge and experience and use the clinic as an opportunity to expand your knowledge and learn from your peers and your supervisors. At the same time, you can build your professional confidence by honing your communication, writing and research skills.

Having said that, it is very helpful to ensure that you are aware of what is expected from you in the role from inception. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to clarify with your supervisor if you are unsure of what is expected from you. This way, you can focus on meeting the clinic’s requirements and contribute in a meaningful way.

It is also useful for you to decide from the start what you would like to gain from your clinic experience. This will enable you to plan ahead and self-assess and reflect after each clinic upon what you have learnt, and how you can improve. It’s up to you to grasp the opportunity and make the most of it. As with many opportunities in life, the benefits gained will be directly related to the effort expended on your part.

4.10 Conclusion

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela[7]

For any law student, overcoming the fear of failure is a crucial step towards success. A clinical placement may take you outside of your comfort zone and require you to embrace the possibility of failure. It may also test your resilience and provide you with new challenges that you haven’t previously contemplated. Remember that failure is simply an opportunity to learn and improve. Every great accomplishment and breakthrough were preceded by countless failures and setbacks. So, embrace the fear, take that leap of faith, and trust in your abilities and determination to persevere and overcome any obstacle that comes your way.

We started this guide by talking about the hero’s journey, and the fact that the law clinic offers you the chance to develop the ‘Great Eight Traits’[8] of heroism in becoming a civic-minded, ethical lawyer. Apart from developing practical, transferrable essential skills such as research, writing and communication skills with enthusiasm and dedication, I hope that you will seize the opportunity to develop the heroic traits and carry them forward into your future career. You can be the kind of person you admire – caring, charismatic, inspiring, reliable, resilient, selfless, smart and strong – the amazing person you deserve to be!


Photo by Rachel Ellis on Unsplash


  1. Queensland Law Society, Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules (2012)<>.
  2. Excerpt adapted from Francina Cantatore, Bond University Commercial Law Clinic Volunteer Handbook 2021, p 31-32.
  3. Avrom Sherr, Client interviewing for lawyers (Sweet and Maxwell, 1986).
  4. Libby Taylor, “The first interview”, in Bond University Commercial Law Clinic Volunteer Handbook 2021, p 35. Author’s note: These suggestions will be suitable for lawyers with a practising certificate, able to provide legal advice to clients. Law students will be able to undertake steps 1-8 only – any legal advice should be provided by the supervising lawyer.
  5. See David Luban, “Twenty theses on adversarial ethics” in Helen Stacy & Michael Lavarch (eds), Beyond the adversarial system (Federation Press, Sydney 1999) 140.
  6. Adrian Evans, et al, Australian Clinical Legal Education: Designing and operating a best practice clinical program in an Australian law school (ANU Press 2017) <>.
  8. According to S T Allison and G R Goethals, Heroic leadership: An influence taxonomy of 100 exceptional individuals (Routledge 2013) 9-10.


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The Law Clinic Experience: A Guidebook for Students Copyright © 2023 by Francina Cantatore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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