What the Saturday Legal Clinic Taught Me

By Caren Nichol, Shareholder at Evans Petree PC

     As a working mother with two young children, my Saturdays are sacred family days. So when I was asked to attend a Saturday Legal Clinic with my law firm, Evans Petree, I have to admit that I was less than enthusiastic. Pat Arnoult had agreed to staff the clinic with attorneys from our firm and anyone who knows Pat knows he is hard to say no to. I gave my husband, who is also my law partner, the choice—he could either go to the clinic or watch the kids. He chose the kids. The clinic at least starts at the sane time of 9:30 a.m., and so after dishing out waffles to my boys, I headed over to the library.
     There was already a divorce matter that no one else wanted to touch waiting for me when I arrived. Many of my partners and associates had already started their first case of the day. Some of the cases were like bad law school exam questions and it was fun to watch some of the associates, who are not used to diagnosing the problems, struggle to discern the true issues from the long sordid stories. It was great to watch my partners who are used to dealing in different issues handle the true to life issues you face at the clinics. I think Bill Hendrix got the biggest laugh by watching my face when our client was talking to us about misfiring cylinders and a variety of other car parts I had never heard of. I had no idea what a cylinder did, or that there was more than one in your car.
     By teaming up we were able to help everyone and even learned a little bit from each other and from our clients. One of my clients was going to call me if they had questions, another was going to call me and let me know how they did in court. I promised to review an agreement for a third, and the last client was going to come back to the next legal clinic if he was not successful in handling his situation by himself.
     My stomach started to grumble and I realized that it was already noon. The three hours passed surprisingly quickly. Time flies when you are busy and having fun. At the end of the day I have to admit that I was glad I pulled the short stick. Being at the clinic not only reminded me of why I wanted to practice law but also reminded me how much I enjoy my partners and associates. 
     It was good for our firm to participate in the Saturday Legal Clinic. We enjoyed it, and it was an excellent experience for our associates. I would encourage all firms to agree to participate at least once a year. I think you will find it not only a good cause, but also, selfishly, an interesting endeavor. It also provided me with a good lesson for my 8-year-old about obligations to help others and lead to an explanation about the difference between a profession and a job. I hope that my son learned something important from my absence that day.

Initiated in October 2007, the Saturday Legal Clinic is a project of the Access to Justice Committee, a collaborative effort of the Memphis Bar Association, Memphis Area Legal Services, the Community Legal Center, and other nonprofit organizations providing legal services to those in need. The clinics are held the second Saturday of each month from 9 am to noon at the main library (3030 Poplar Avenue). Volunteers see individuals on a first come, first served basis, and the legal matters are typically very general and simple. To read more, go to http://www.memphisbar.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=164.