“It’s always peaks and troughs in clinic”.
I reckon I utter this phrase to my students at least 20 times per year. And that’s a conservative estimate. I say it when we meet, and they are nervous about what’s around the corner. I say it when it gets busy, and they are wondering if it will end. I say it when it gets quiet, and they are worried we won’t receive any new client enquiries. I say it and say it and say it, so that they are comforted. Yes, it will be busy at times but that will pass. Yes, there are occasions when things die down. Use your time wisely.
Last month, I repeated the mantra to myself. This too shall pass. This peak. This exceptionally busy period.
“What do you do?”
As a supervisor, I find it difficult to explain exactly how clinical work can take over my working week. I supervise 12 students. That’s the extent of my teaching. On paper, it looks a little, well, ‘light’. But they’re doing real legal work. Real legal work for real people, with real consequences.
I’m not one for detailing every moment of my day. And, I really don’t subscribe to the ‘look at how many hours/hard I work’ brigade. But for the purposes of this blog post, I want to give you a flavour of a day in the life of a supervisor. In January. Indulge me, if you will.
30 January 2018*:
By 9.25am, I’ve already provided written feedback on a five page advice letter of advice. In the letter, I’ve used track changes to show suggested revisions. I’ve also included comments for the next draft (and lots of positive feedback!) down the side, in comments boxes. I then remember I also need to assess the letter for the Legal Practice Course letter writing competency. I complete the assessment form. That takes me about 30 minutes. Quick break. Make sure everything is saved. A colleague pops their head around my door and we talk about a conference we’ve been asked to speak at. We “yay!” and “woo hoo!” at each other, excitedly.
Next letter. This one is slightly different. The student received my written feedback on the first draft last week. They’ve sent me the second draft for approval. It needs to go out the client as soon as possible. For the next hour, I re-read the letter, noting in comments boxes where the student has made improvements and suggesting some language that might come in handy with the next letter they write. In the meantime, I’ve had a number of emails from my students: asking questions about their cases, asking for additional work as their case has come to an end, and confirming the time for a new client appointment next week. We’re at 10:52am, by the way.
To get away from letters for a while, I decide to email two students who want some additional work. I know we may have some substantial work coming in from a new client, but until that client has been interviewed I’m not sure…. I spend time creating a research question about website ownership, using a real business to give it context. I email it to them, with a clear steer as to how they might produce a report and a letter. I remind the students that they will need to put this to one side if our live client work picks up in the next few days. I think it will, but I want to give the students an opportunity to show the development of their skills.
I start to think about my other students, and I mentally run through my list of what they’re getting up to, whether I’m giving them too much, too little. I think about the firm meetings I’m running next week. I worry a bit. Approving another advice letter takes me up to midday.
Break for lunch. Actually, no. An interview plan, sent to me yesterday, catches my eye. I’ll just look at it now. It might not need very much feedback. I’m right, it doesn’t. Half an hour later I send my student an email praising the development of their ability to think of relevant commercial questions in a fact finding client interview.
After lunch, I am conscious that I have two mid year appraisal forms to complete. At this time of year, we ask our students to self assess against the 2:1 assessment criteria for our clinic. They comment on whether they think they are meeting the criteria. Our students also produce a page of reflective work, attached to the form. Our assessment is 70% practical work, 30% 2 x reflective essays. The student completes the form and the reflective piece, and the supervisor provides feedback in writing and in a meeting. I have already completed 8 forms and related meetings. I have 4 left to go – 2 this week. Each form normally takes me about an hour to an hour and a half.
I have 31 clinic-related emails in my inbox. They are all under a week old.
The flow of my feedback on the first appraisal form is interrupted by a new email. Attached to the email is a draft client appointment letter and an attendance note. The attendance note confirms that two of my students have called a potential new client to arrange a fact finding interview. The interview has been arranged for next week. The appointment letter needs to go out by tomorrow at the latest. I look at it, realise there are some basic formatting errors and a missing date, and send a quick note back to my students commending the content of the letter but requesting they look at the formatting with fresh eyes. I make a note in my diary that I’m waiting for draft 2 of the letter, and it needs to go out tomorrow.
Mid year appraisal forms take me to just after 3pm. I take a walk to our clinic, to do some printing. It feels good to stretch my legs, and I have a chat with colleagues whilst waiting for the printer to be free.
I have a mid-afternoon slump, and find my brain is drawn to doing one thing: updating our clinic twitter account. I check our ‘likes’, ‘mentions’, and ‘retweets’. A client has tweeted positive feedback about their experience at the clinic. I retweet it, along with a note of thanks. I tweet about an upcoming film night. I then log into my own account to see what’s happening in the world.
Two more (second) draft letters arrive. I’ll look at those another day. I’ve got time. I re-read a mid year appraisal form, and make some minor changes, softening my expression. It’s 4.30pm. One of my students pops in to talk about an assessment day they’ve just been to. A welcome break. I listen intently as they talk about the exercises they were asked to take part in. We agree that the rest of the firm would benefit from hearing about this experience, and resolve to talk about it tomorrow when we have our firm meeting. 5pm comes around. I message my fiance to say I’m leaving shortly. My list of admin gets longer. My research is untouched again. Tomorrow, I say. Tomorrow.
*details have been changed to protect student, client, and colleague confidentiality.