Thursday, January 24, 2013
San Diego (January 24, 2013) – For Jennifer Varga, '13 (JD), participating in the Education and Disability Clinic was the highlight of her time at USD. “I was very unsure of myself at the end of my first year, but I’ve learned so much through the clinical experience that I’m now confident in myself and my ability to one day be an effective attorney.”
Under the supervision of Professor Margaret Dalton, Jenni dealt with a range of clients and issues in her four semesters in the clinic. Several of her cases involved representing parents of students with disabilities as they navigated the special education system.
“Well-educated, affluent parents often have the time and knowledge to deal with the process or the means to hire an attorney, but less-sophisticated parents may not understand their rights and may be easily intimidated. The clinic represents economically disadvantaged parents in areas with schools that may not be held as accountable as schools with parents who have more resources. I was able to educate school personnel and really get their attention when I accompanied parents during their IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings. Everyone thinks of me as gentle and mild-mannered, but I have learned to be a vigorous advocate when a student’s needs aren’t being met.”
In one complex ongoing case, the clinic is working on behalf of a young man with multiple disabilities, seeking to establish his eligibility for benefits under the Lanterman Act. When the client’s case didn’t settle and he was denied eligibility, Jenni did the research and wrote a memo outlining the issues, wrote and delivered the opening statement before an administrative law judge, and submitted the written closing argument. “The judge ruled against us, and we are now working on an appeal, which will go to the superior court. Sometimes in the classroom the issues can seem pretty abstract, but in a case like this in which benefits are being denied, you see the human costs.”
Reflecting on her time in the clinic, Jenni points not only to what she’s learned about research, writing and oral advocacy, but also to practical skills of lawyering that she’s mastering. “I know how to interview a client, how to deal with a difficult or overly-demanding client, how to meet deadlines and keep complete and accurate records. Every day at the clinic I learned new things. Sometimes I had a hard time tearing myself away to go to class: I just wanted to work on my case!”