In August, NCIP welcomed 14 Santa Clara Law students into our year-long clinical program. Throughout this academic year, this group will have the unique experience of working closely with the NCIP legal team on real innocence cases. We sat down with NCIP student Maria Sokova to find out a little bit about her experience in the clinic so far.
Why did you want to take part in the NCIP clinic?
I applied for the NCIP clinic because I wanted experience in some aspect of criminal law. My focus in law school has been primarily intellectual property, and I wanted to try something different. After graduation, I will be working at the law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe doing IP litigation, and so part of the reason I wanted to take the clinic was to open up opportunities to do pro bono work with NCIP down the line. I know Orrick has done pro bono work with NCIP before on the George Souliotes case.
I also thought the NCIP clinic would be a great way to learn about investigation and to acquire lawyering skills by working on actual cases. I thought participating in a clinic would be a good way to mix up things instead of taking regular classes.
What have you found most surprising about what you’ve learned so far at NCIP?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned in the clinic so far is just how long these cases take to resolve. I’m amazed that some of NCIP’s cases have been with them since they started in 2001. One of the cases I am working on has been with NCIP since 2012, and I am hopeful that it might get resolved before my clinic experience is over.
What has been the most satisfying part of the clinic for you?
The most satisfying part of the clinic for me so far has been dealing with some of the more challenging and complex legal arguments in these cases. In most of my classes, the legal concepts we deal with are a little more clear and straightforward. But, in the cases we see in the NCIP clinic, the law is not super clear around some of the issues, and it has been satisfying to participate in crafting legal arguments that will push a case forward, even when it seems like an uphill battle.
How do you see your work in the clinic benefiting you when you become a lawyer?
As I mentioned before, this has been a really good exercise in making more complex legal arguments and has given me an overview of more complicated law. My time at NCIP so far has been a great practical experience. Some of the skills I have developed at NCIP that will benefit me as a lawyer include knowing how to prepare questions and understanding how to investigate cases. NCIP has given me real-world experience beyond the memo writing parts of the legal profession.
What advice would have for a law student who was considering applying for the clinic?
My advice would be that you don’t have to be into criminal law or pursuing a career in the criminal justice field to benefit from this clinic. You can get a lot of really beneficial skills from this class no matter what type of law you go into. I would recommend that students plan to take the clinic when they are able to devote a lot of time to it. The more time you can give to it, the more you will get from it. The students who take advantage of the opportunities the clinic provides–going on prison visits to meet with clients, interviewing witnesses, meeting with experts—are the students who will have the best and most impactful experience.