FIU Law Brings Practical Training to Students with Semester-In-Practice Program

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A SEMESTER-IN-PRACTICE (“SIP”) placement is an opportunity immersing (3L, 4L) students in a practical experience for an entire semester at a private firm, a corporation, a non-profit, legal services organization or a government agency.  Students gain hands-on experience through either a paid or non-paid credit-based field placement working directly with an attorney/field supervisor and receiving oversight at the law school from a faculty supervisor(s). SIP’s primary purpose is to provide opportunities for students to develop lawyering skills; to apply knowledge garnered through prior doctrinal and theoretical instruction to a practical setting; and engage in critical reflection about the legal profession, their legal career, and their priorities and values as lawyers and individuals through supervised field experiences and the contemporaneous seminar.

Fall/spring/summer SIP placements may be in Miami, DC, throughout the United States, or abroad.  (The College of Law Dean and Sr. Assoc. Dean for Clinical Education select and approve all placements.) The primary purpose of the SIP Practicum is to provide opportunities for students to develop lawyering skills; to apply knowledge garnered through prior doctrinal and theoretical instruction to a practical setting; and engage in critical reflection about the legal profession, their legal career, and their priorities and values as lawyers and individuals through supervised field experiences and the contemporaneous seminar.  Admission to the SIP Practicum is by application only. Enrollment is limited to fifteen (15) students and all applications must possess minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.10.

Laura Maxwell, Andrea Huerta, and Astrid Menendez share their incredible experiences with the FIU Law Semester-In-Practice program.

 

Laura Maxwell, Class of ’17

What year student are you currently (or if graduated, what year were you during your SIP)?

I was a 4LE [Fourth Year Evening] (last semester) when I did SIP.

 

What agency or firm did you work with and where was it located?

I worked in the legal department of Lennar Corporation at its headquarters located at 700 NW 107th Ave, Miami FL 33172.

How did the SIP enrich your law school experience?

SIP enriched my law school experience in several ways.  It allowed me to apply what I learned in law school to legal practice.  I was previously a paralegal at Lennar, so the SIP program caused the attorneys I worked with to provide me with more substantive legal work such as drafting real estate contracts, researching legal issues related to homeowners’ association rights, and structuring joint ventures.  I was also provided with mentorship through SIP – both in the classroom and in my placement.  The weekly meetings with Dean Mason and the weekly guest speakers all provided me with invaluable advice regarding professionalism, life/work balance, handling assignments, and career development.  At my placement, the attorneys I worked with used SIP as an opportunity to discuss career options with me and to discuss what clients (from the in house legal department perspective) are looking for from outside attorneys.

How did the SIP prepare you to transition to the practice of law?

At the time I did SIP, I had accepted an offer from Greenberg Traurig to work on their real estate team in their West Palm Beach office.  I knew from working as a summer associate there the previous summer that the real estate team mostly worked on land acquisition deals, and mostly for Lennar.  Although I was working as a paralegal at Lennar, prior to SIP I worked on corporate and securities matters.  However, I knew that one of the corporate attorneys I worked with was beginning to work on land acquisition deals related to the construction and leasing of cell towers.  So, I was able to use SIP as a way to get involved in these smaller land acquisition deals, which allowed me to meet the land acquisition teams from the different Lennar divisions.  SIP, therefore, allowed me to cultivate valuable relationships with my future client as well as become more familiar with the work I’d be doing at Greenberg Traurig.

What type of work was involved?

I was involved in all phases of Lennar’s acquisition of land for the construction and leasing of cell towers, including: drafting and amending Lennar’s joint venture agreement with its cell tower partner, drafting lease agreements, option agreements, purchase and sale agreements, easements, and deeds, researching issues related to homeowners’ associations and zoning requirements, managing and tracking the various cell tower projects across the nation, and closing on the purchase of land by the jont venture.  I also continued to do corporate and securities work but at more substantive level.  One major project I was involved in was Lennar’s acquisition of WCI Communities, a competing home builder in southwest Florida.

Anything else exciting during the SIP that you would like to share?

I think that the guest speakers were a highlight of the program.  We heard from partners at big law firms, judges, former FIU law students, and in general, people with a wide range of experiences.  They each had unique pieces of advice to offer us that really provided a more complete picture of what it means to be a lawyer and how to excel in your career.

Do you recommend the SIP to current law students and why?

Absolutely, for all of the reasons I mentioned above!  SIP is a wonderful experiential learning program – combining both practical experience with personal and professional development.  It was similar to being in a summer associate program at a big firm, but without the pressure.  What I mean is, as a summer associate, the firm you work for will provide events and training related to professional development.  But, as a summer associate, you are constantly under scrutiny – it is a working interview.  So, at these professional development events and trainings, you’re not likely to ask questions about work/life balance, stress and financial management, carving a career path for yourself, etc., but with the guest speakers through SIP, you are free to ask anything without having to worry about losing a potential job offer, and the guest speakers come from so many backgrounds that they can offer insight you might not get from someone in your own firm or department.

 

Andrea Huerta, Class of ’17

What year student are you currently (or if graduated, what year were you during your SIP)?

I am a recent FIU College of Law graduate (Class of 2017). I participated in the SIP Program my last semester of law school, in the Spring 2017.

What agency or firm did you work with and where was it located?

I worked for an internationally renowned business immigration firm called: Fragomen, Del Rey, Bersen, Loewy, LLP, located in Coral Gables, FL.

How did the SIP enrich your law school experience?

The SIP Program provided me with an invaluable opportunity to gain practical experience at one of the world’s best, most renowned business immigration firms. Most importantly, as a soon-to-be law graduate, I was given the opportunity to explore an area of the law that I was interested in but one in which I had very little familiarity. In fact, because this area of the law (business immigration) is a very specific area, there are only a limited number of courses, if any, that would have given me the exposure to learn more about what a business immigration attorney does in the real-world.

On a more personal level, the weekly sessions that we would attend for SIP truly had a profound impact on me. Every week attorneys and judges from a variety of different backgrounds and specialties would come in an speak with us on a specific topic. These sessions served as a forum in which we were exposed to real-world problems that attorneys face on a daily basis, where we were also given tips and advice in managing such problems or situations. These problems/situations related to a range of issues such as those that occur as a result of being a new attorney in the field, to billing, and even gender discrimination. What was perhaps most effective about these discussions is that they were not focused on the problem. Rather, they were focused on what we, as young legal professionals could do to be the best and most successful in our prospective endeavors. It was a great way to expose us to certain issues that may inevitably arise. As a result, I was expose to issues that I had never considered before. For example, our class was composed of 3 students, each of us were practicing in different areas and thus, each of us had different concerns and fears about the legal world.

Ultimately, this course served as perhaps one of my favorite law school memories because I was able to finally implement all that I had learned from my prior educational and professional experiences. It was especially eye-opening to see how this course, which was held in the last semester of my law school career, served as the culmination of all my hard work throughout the previous 2 ½ years.

How did the SIP prepare you to transition to the practice of law?

As mentioned above, the SIP Program served as a forum by which we began to think about the practical, real-world problems that attorneys face. We were able to listen to the experiences and obtain advice from practitioners from all different backgrounds and specialties; women, men, judges, attorneys, corporate law attorneys, employment law attorneys, family law attorneys, etc. Every week there was a different topic, which was interesting because Dean Mason would gear it to what each student felt was important. Therefore, these sessions were geared to serve our personal interests and prospective professional needs as well. For example, I remember struggling a lot with finding myself as a professional; although I am nowhere near close to finding who I want to be as a next generation legal professional, Dean Mason brought in the right people to help set me on that path. One specific lecturer, one of South Florida’s most prominent Bankruptcy attorneys, spoke a lot about being mindful of the things we want in our career and the time, dedication, and sacrifice it will take to get us there. This lecture was titled, “Mindfulness.” After his presentation, I was able to sit down with this lawyer at a later date in his office for a one-on-one meeting and brainstorm about the type of legal career I wanted in the future. Ultimately, the SIP Program provided us with a lot of guidance in a real-world, practical setting.

I feel extremely fortunate enough to have had this opportunity. Ultimately, I think the SIP Program effectively tied the legal education and professional experience into one incredible way of gearing a future attorney to transition from being a student into being a practitioner. This was truly the best, most unique experience that reflected much of a residency program that physicians generally participate in after graduating from medical school. I think this is extremely important considering that even after graduating from law school and having previously participated in various internships, externships, and clerkships, I still found myself feeling like this was 1L all over again; this time with much bigger stakes at hand. However, perhaps what made all the difference was that despite the feeling of “knowing nothing” all over again, I had the tools and guidance of other practitioners who walked this path before to guide me. The transition from student-life to real-life happens quick. In a matter of a few months, the law student goes from having everything reviewed by his/her supervisors or professors, to signing things with their own name on it and attending court alone with very little supervision or review. However, as a SIP student who was eventually hired at the firm in which I was placed during SIP, I can attest to the fact that the experiences I gained throughout SIP definitely lessened the “blow” that I heard many of my peers mention upon officially practicing as a licensed attorney. This is primarily because I had developed real-world experience during my time as a Law Clerk at Fragomen. I drafted government forms, prepared attorney letters of support, went to court with my supervising attorney, and spoke with clients.

What type of work was involved?

As mentioned above, the SIP Program involved an in-person meeting with Dean Mason, the head of the program (besides Former Dean Acosta), and an in-person class session. In addition, we were to submit weekly journal assignments and occasionally submit assignments geared towards common ethical concerns, which were primarily used as a thought-provoking assignment geared to have us thinking like real-world legal practitioners. Towards the end of the semester, we were instructed to present a paper in which we were able to pick any topic based on our experience at our placement.

The best part of the SIP Program was that it satisfied most of the remaining credits a typical 3L student in their last semester would need to fulfill. Besides the bar prep course we were required to take in our last semester and the seminar course (held only once a week at 8 am before work), I was able to fully commit to my position as a Law Clerk and thus, was able to get as much hands-on, practical learning and experience as possible without having to worry about other courses.

Anything else exciting during the SIP that you would like to share?

Perhaps the most exciting thing that occurred as a result of the SIP Program was that I was eventually hired at the firm (Fragomen) I was placed at and thus, can serve as a true testament to the SIP Program’s effectiveness and impact on prospective law students hoping to find their place in the legal world after graduation.

Do you recommend the SIP to current law students and why?

Absolutely. For all of the reasons stated above! 😊

 

Astrid Menendez, Class of ’17

What year student are you currently (or if graduated, what year were you during your SIP)?

I participated in SIP during the spring semester of my third year.

What agency or firm did you work with and where was it located?

I worked in-house at Burger King Headquarters (i.e., Restaurant Brands International), which is located in Miami, FL.

How did the SIP enrich your law school experience?

SIP gave me the practical experience and knowledge that law school classes usually lack. Instead of just listening to abstract concepts, SIP allowed you to tackle on these concepts hands-on. It also allows one to immerse oneself in a working environment, full-time. Unlike regular internships, which usually take up a few hours a week, SIP, which requires a full-time commitment, allows you to fully devote your time and focus into a specific field or industry.

How did the SIP prepare you to transition to the practice of law?

Not only did SIP give me that hands-on experience that a classroom setting could not possibly deliver, but SIP also allows you to work in a real legal setting, one with real stress, deadlines, personalities and office cultures. SIP gave a real glimpse into the “real-world” and practice of law. One of the most valuable aspects of the program was getting to make connections within the legal field at such an early age.

What type of work was involved?

The type of work involved is the type of work expected from a first year at any firm. There was a lot of drafting and research involved. I mainly worked with the attorney who specializes in mergers and acquisitions for Burger King so I got to sit in on negotiations and business development meetings. Depending on your placement, you can also venture out into different practice groups. Although I was set on a transactional practice, I was able to get exposure to various types of agreements (i.e., supplier agreements; franchise agreements; joint venture agreements; etc.).

Anything else exciting during the SIP that you would like to share?

In addition to the experiential component, SIP also brought in guest speakers a few times a month, which I found to be fascinating. The program coordinator did an excellent job at choosing very different practitioners (in terms of age, practice areas, firm type, etc.) to come speak to us. These sessions resulted in great anecdotes, advice and insight into what is to come after graduation.

Do you recommend the SIP to current law students and why?

Without a doubt. SIP allows you to be above the curve in the sense that it gives you an advantage over other students who really do not have practical experience or even experience working in a legal setting. It also prepares you for your first year of practice, which can be daunting if you go in blindly.

Click “here” to learn more about our Semester-In-Practice Program.