by Emily Mulligan.
Statutes. Codes. Citations. Cases. With all the reading and writing and technicalities, it can be easy to forget that lawyers are ultimately in one business: helping people.
2L Alessandro Piombo got to be front and center for a valuable lesson in how lawyers help their clients, thanks to a real-life experience from his Intro to Employment Law class last fall.
With supervision from a local attorney, Piombo represented a client who had been wrongfully terminated, and his demand letter led to a mediation and to his client receiving a significant severance.
Taking it to the streets
As a student in Adjunct Professor Lauren Scholnick’s course, Piombo was subjected to Scholnick’s unique experiential requirement for the class. Every student was to participate in one of the Pro Bono Initiative‘s monthly employment law nights, where local attorneys and Utah Law students provide brief, pro bono legal advice to members of the community. Scholnick also required the students to submit a piece of legal writing to her, ideally based on their experience volunteering at PBI. Scholnick is a partner at Strindberg Scholnick Birch Hallam Harstad Thorne Employment & Labor Law, and has practiced employment law for more than 25 years.
“A lot of the students expressed that they wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t required it, because they were nervous,” Scholnick says. “Even law firm clerks don’t get to talk to real people. So afterwards they felt empowered, and they felt like they got something done.”
For his part, Piombo says he was kind of looking forward to employment law night, because he had heard good things about PBI from other students. Though, he admits, “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Extending a helping hand
Kass Harstad, a law partner of Scholnick’s, was Piombo’s supervising attorney for his client and was at PBI’s employment law site the night of his first client meeting. She has volunteered regularly at employment law night in her 20+ years of practice. She says seeing the students meet their very first client is a reminder that in law, “You have to do things you’ve never done before. That’s part of being a lawyer. You don’t do the same thing every day.”
Piombo says writing the demand letter and attending the client’s mediation with the Utah Labor Commission built on what he had learned in Scholnick’s class. His take-aways were not strictly about the legal process, though.
“This was good practice talking to clients, because people are emotional, and you have to learn how to extract the information you need from them regardless of that,” he says. “Also, the [employment law] clinic provides a genuine service to people who are in need. My client really needed that severance; it made a difference in her life, because she hadn’t been able to work.”
Scholnick hopes that Piombo’s results and her 21 students’ experiences with employment law in the PBI will help draw attention to the shortage of employment lawyers in the area and in Utah.
“I teach a survey class in employment law. If the students are interested in this area, there are not a lot of places for them to go for more extensive study. So, the PBI experience is beneficial to the student and to the community,” she says.