Illinois Bar Journal

February 2016Volume 104Number 2Page 50

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Voices

Learning by Doing

Professor Theresa Ceko, director of the Community Law Center Clinic at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, talks about her work with the next generation of lawyers.

Professor Theresa Ceko
Professor Theresa Ceko

IBJ. Exactly what kind of experience do students get in your clinic? Do faculty stand back and let students take charge?

Ceko. The Loyola University Community Law Center is a civil litigation clinic in which students gain hands-on experience by advocating for people who need representation in a wide variety of cases. In addition to divorces, landlord tenant cases, and other matters that allow students courtroom experience, students act as guardians ad litem in contested guardianship cases brought in probate court.

In these GAL cases, students interview the minor, all of the parties, and others such as teachers, physicians, and mental health professionals. They gather all the necessary documents and write a GAL report, where they give their recommendations, relying on the law applicable to their case. Then they appear in court to present their report, mediate visitation agreements, and, if necessary, participate in contested hearings.

Students handle these matters under my supervision and pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 711. I review their notes prior to their interviews - which they conduct alone - and read their memos and reports. I also accompany them to court. I strongly believe in empowering the students to give them the opportunity to handle their cases as a licensed attorney, supervised by our clinical staff.

IBJ. We hear a lot these days about "practice-ready" law school grads. Do you think Loyola students who immerse themselves in experiential learning are ready to hang out a shingle when they graduate?

Ceko. Let me put it this way: Loyola students who take clinical courses and other experiential learning classes gain practical experience and are more ready to practice when they graduate than students who have not had this training. I think law schools have an obligation to focus on practice skills in addition to the theoretical aspects of law school. I think that Loyola does an excellent job in both these areas.

IBJ. What do you like most about your job? What's the biggest frustration?

Ceko. I have been at Loyola for 28 years and have been the Director of the Community Law Center for 16 years. I teach a classroom component to the clinic, where I stress classroom participation and role playing to teach clinical skills. I enjoy the discussions we have in these classes.

I also very much enjoy discussing cases with students. The highlight for me as a clinical professor is accompanying students to court and watching them handle what is often their first case.

My biggest frustration? That there aren't enough hours in the day to help more clients.

IBJ. You're working day in and day out with the next generation of lawyers. How are these Millennials different from those of us who have some silver in our hair?

Ceko. My students today are just as committed, inquisitive, articulate, and hard-working as students from my first day at Loyola. Today's law students have the same strong desire to develop their lawyering skills.

The big difference is the role that technology plays today. Now, a student can email me a GAL report, which I can then email back with corrections in far less time that it used to take when we launched the clinic. We also spend time in the classroom discussing how evidence from social media sources can be introduced, something we obviously didn't confront back then.

But much of the work lawyers do is the same as it was when I started. While technology continues to enrich the practice of law, there's no substitute for the hands-on, face-to-face experience of clinical work.

Loyola clinics

In addition to the Community Law Center Clinic, Loyola has six others that "encourage students
to contribute to society while gaining vital practical experience." The school also offers externships as part of its experiential learning program.

Find out more
under "Centers & Programs" at www.luc.edu/law.

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