Semester-in-Practice Makes Perfect

Marcelis Morris, Semester-in-Practice
‌Marcelis Morris ’13

Loyola’s Semester-in-Practice program offers upper-division students the opportunity to shadow attorneys at Southern California’s top civil litigation firms. Participating students complete substantive tasks as they make the rounds at their respective firms.

“Every day I showed up,  I was making an appearance somewhere, said Greg Chambers ’13. “I would go on depositions, go to watch trial or motion hearings. I was paired up with a lot of different people in the firm. I got an opportunity to meet a lot of different attorneys and build rapport with a lot of different folks, including some of the partners.”

Chambers worked in the construction industry for 15 years and earned an MBA before enrolling at Loyola. He wanted an experience that allowed him to capitalize on that experience, and he found it at his Semester-in-Practice firm: Collins Collins Muir + Stewart LLP.

“It worked out well because one of the first depositions I went to was a construction defect situation,” he said. “It helped a lot just to be able to understand when the engineer is being questioned what is going on, what they’re talking about, just the lingo. So I think that started things off for me on a pretty good note.”

Now studying for July California Bar exam, Chambers will return to the firm as a post-bar law clerk. “I really think I had a great experience,” he said.

‌Marcelis Morris ’13 felt the same about his Semester-in-Practice experience. A Gary Paul Scholar at Loyola, he spent a semester at Girardi | Keese, a successful plaintiffs’ firm in downtown Los Angeles that specializes in product liability, personal injury and medical malpractice, among other practice areas. During his tenure, he shadowed attorneys during such proceedings as voir dire sessions, trials, depositions, hearings and mediations. For Morris, the SIP provided something that the classroom – or even a law firm clerkship – could not.

“It really filled in the gaps,” he said. “I got an inside look into the whole litigation process. I got to do the things that you never have time for as a law clerk but want to do. You go to the deposition, the mediation, the arbitration, the client meeting, the meeting with opposing counsel. You get to see the other half of lawyering. There’s a part of it that has nothing to do with a computer. It’s interacting with judges, other attorneys, clients. It’s seeing beyond the computer, beyond the paper trail. It gives you insight into just lawyering. Period.”

Morris credits the SIP with allowing him access to proceedings where he could witness good lawyering skills at work. “I would watch two attorneys argue a demurrer on a dog bite case. You get to see veteran lawyers, new lawyers and different styles. With the Semester-in-Practice, you could just go anywhere and see anything – even more than you would get as a lawyer.”

And Morris would know – he bulked up on practical experience in myriad other ways. He was a law clerk at Waters Kraus Paul, a plaintiffs’ firm specializing in asbestos, personal injury and birth-defect cases. He was also a member of the Byrne Trial Advocacy Team and the Hobbs District Attorney Clinic. As a second-year transfer from the University of LaVerne College of Law, he wonders how he fit it all in. “I have an immense appreciation for the amount of opportunities Loyola gives you while a student,” he said. “I said, ‘I have two years to get my hands in anything.’ So I took advantage of every opportunity I could get my hands on.”

For Kathryn Suggs ’13, the ability to shadow was key. “I had the opportunity to participate in the deposition of two expert witnesses in the same case by the same attorney. By observing the same attorney handling two different witnesses based upon the same set of circumstances, I was able to gleam a practical understanding of applying differing strategies to the deposition process,” she said.

Suggs found the freedom to observe was unparalleled. “Unlike the firm experiences of many of my peers, I was given the freedom to slowly learn about the entire civil practice without a lot of the stress of personal work assignment deadlines,” she said. “The SIP requires that at least 50 percent of your time at the firm involves observing others in practice. As a result, I was able to relax just really focus on learning by example. While I did have assignments that were difficult and had stressful time deadlines, the balance of those times with times of observation made the overall experience a much less stressful one and much more educational.”

Attorney mentors share their mentees’ enthusiasm. “The Semester-in-Practice program is one of the best programs out there for law students.  Students from the program who have externed for Brown White & Newhouse, LLP have had the opportunity to establish a mentoring relationship with attorneys and have shadowed them at depositions, court hearings and client meetings,” said Kimia Sehati ’11, an associate who worked with Suggs.  “Externs have assisted with drafting letters to clients, preparing briefs, and conducting legal research, which has allowed them to gain helpful feedback from experienced attorneys on how to advance their writing and research skills. “

Since the SIP’s inception in fall 2011, about 75 students have participated in the program in a range of firms. Pictured above: Sehati works with SIP student Kathryn Suggs ’13, who spent a semester at the firm as part of her Semester-in-Practice.