Carrying experience into practice
Clinic alumni often find their experiences to be relevant and resonant long after they graduate from Duke Law.
Learning the value of service:
Katarina Wong ’19, T’12
Katie Wong spent three semesters in the Civil Justice Clinic, the second as an advanced student and the third as a volunteer. She and her clinic partner, Zachary Ezor ’19, spent a year helping a couple navigate multiple, related legal actions: bringing a lawsuit over unsafe housing, defending them from eviction, opposing the garnishment of wages in an employment suit, and a separate fight for unemployment benefits. The experience produced a deep resolve to serve in Wong, who is now a general litigation associate at Brooks Pierce in Raleigh and has already handled pro bono housing cases in Durham and Raleigh through Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Volunteer Lawyer Program and Duke’s Lawyer on the Line Program.
“The clinic gave me the confidence to be able to take on cases on my own and it certainly established my commitment to work in this space. Understanding the implications of eviction proceedings and how they impacted our clients’ lives made me realize how important it is to offer these free services. Eviction actions are common in Durham, but it’s hard to find an attorney to defend something with such high stakes for such little remuneration. This work involves basic needs that so many people are at risk of losing on a day-to-day basis.”
Gaining professional footing for private and pro bono practice:
Jonah Retzinger ’11
Jonah Retzinger took on his first disability benefits hearing in the AIDS Legal Project — now the Health Justice Clinic — early in the spring semester of his second year, at the request of the clinic’s director at the time, Carolyn McAllaster. “I was absolutely terrified, but as Professor McAllaster told me, if you’re going to be terrified, the clinic’s a good place to be, because there are training wheels on,” he says. He remembers every detail about preparing for that first hearing: learning the difference between different federal disability benefits, scouring the client’s medical records, and plotting a course for direct and cross examination. He also remembers how grateful his client was when they won. Now a health care litigator and co-leader of the government enforcement service team at Epstein Becker Green in Los Angeles, Retzinger says that in many ways his career started in the clinic, learning his craft as a litigator and “doing really good work at the same time.”
“The clinic serves as a bridge to private practice because you have obligations to someone else, not just to yourself. You’re representing somebody and they’re reliant on you. There’s a burden that is motivating in so many different ways. The whole experience put me in a position to excel when I got out of law school. At my firm, I’ve managed teams on many different pro bono cases.”
Refining a career path in human rights:
Rym Khadhraoui LLM ’17
Rym Khadhraoui’s view of law as a tool to bring about systemic change against oppression propelled her through legal studies in France and graduate studies in political science in Lebanon. Arriving at Duke Law after working with Oxfam in Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, Khadhraoui enrolled in the International Human Rights Clinic, where she worked on a report on the effects of counterterrorism financing measures on women’s rights organizations. The project enabled her to re-think the human rights framework in a way that helped refine her post-graduation career path. For more than two years, including one as the Duke Law Fellow in Public International Law and International Human Rights, she has been a researcher at Amnesty International’s Europe Regional Office in London, investigating human rights violations in the context of counterterrorism, discrimination, migration, policing, and the right to freedom of assembly.
“My clinic work taught me my profession: to be a human rights researcher. This is also when I realized research is what I enjoy the most — trying to prove a point by finding academic sources, laws, and testimonies to build an analysis. With the clinic, we had to go through a thorough and in-depth fact finding leading to the publication of the report. It was the first time I was involved in a big human rights report, and since then it has been my day-to-day job.”
A clinic lifer:
Daniel Becker ’09
As a 2L, Daniel Becker was on the first team of Wrongful Convictions Clinic students to work on the innocence claim of Quincy Amerson, who was serving life without parole for the 1999 murder of a 7-year-old Harnett County, N.C., girl. Tasked with reinvestigating the case, the first step in proving a post-conviction claim of innocence, Becker recalls going to the courthouse with his teammates to review and photograph the evidence used at Amerson’s trial. He spent two more semesters involved with the case, and in the 12 years since, Becker, now assistant counsel at KPMG in Washington, D.C., has stayed engaged as the claim moves forward.
“After graduation I started working at a large New York law firm that encouraged associates to find a pro bono endeavor they were passionate about. I was able to continue working with the clinic as my primary pro bono endeavor for the almost 10 years I was with that firm. I would check in with Professor Coleman periodically to see if and how I could help, and whenever I traveled back to Duke I always tried to meet with him or Professor Newman. A number of years later, he told me the clinic was ready to start putting together a draft Motion for Appropriate Relief based on the wonderful work that all the successive teams of students had done up to that point, and I was fortunately able to help draft that motion. Since then, I’ve left BigLaw and joined KPMG as assistant counsel, where I advise on internal compliance matters, and KPMG has similarly allowed me to continue working on Quincy’s case as needed. It has been a privilege to stay involved in this case beyond my time at Duke.”
Directly connecting clinic experience with post-grad practice:
Changlan (Lucy) Xu ’19
By the time she enrolled in the First Amendment Clinic as a 3L, Lucy Xu knew she would be starting her career as a litigator at Cahill Gordon & Reindel in New York City, a firm known for expertise in that field. “I knew the experience would help inform my practice,” says Xu, noting her eagerness to apply what she had learned in her doctrinal classes “to defend the free speech of real people and media outlets.”
“The experience of drafting deposition questions, affidavits, and a summary judgment motion has supplied a framework in understanding how each of my assignments represents a different litigation strategy. It is also the experience I draw upon for any First Amendment assignments. One day, a partner called me to help develop legal arguments in defending a potential news media client in a defamation action. I drew upon the legal principles I learned from the defamation case I worked on at the clinic, expanded upon them with research, and conveyed how I believed they would apply to facts of this potential client’s case.”
From the Summer 2020 issue of Duke Law Magazine.