An Interview with Professor Cecelia Klingele

Q. How did Wisconsin’s law-in-action philosophy influence your legal education?
At Wisconsin, law in action is more than a philosophy―it is a way of approaching the practice of law that shapes the substantive curriculum and permeates students’ clinical experiences. By emphasizing the way law works in the world (instead of merely the way it is written in codes and case books), law in action encourages students to analyze in a “big picture” way. When faced with a set of facts, Wisconsin students are expected not only to determine what legal issues are present or what the legal response might be, but to identify non-legal solutions and to grapple with the multi-faceted social, political, and legal conditions that may have contributed to the problem in the first instance. Taking a holistic, practical approach to the law enables lawyers to understand clients’ problems more thoroughly and to shape more creative, effective responses to those problems.

You participated in three clinicals. What did you find valuable about those experiences?
Each clinical offered by the UW Law School provides students with unique opportunities to develop as lawyers. The Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons Program allowed me to meet with clients incarcerated in the state prisons, research their legal questions, and when appropriate, file motions in state court to obtain relief. In the Criminal Appeals Project, I represented criminal defendants in their direct appeals, meeting with them to discuss the appellate process and drafting briefs for the appellate court. In the Prosecution Project, I was able to work as a summer intern in the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, appearing in court daily, drafting complaints, handling my own misdemeanor case load, and even second chairing a felony jury trial. Nothing gives you a better taste of what it’s like to be a lawyer than doing the work of a lawyer. The clinics allow you to do just that under the direction of talented, supportive clinical faculty.

You started law school with young children. What was it like balancing family responsibilities and law school?
Busy, of course, but quite manageable. Three of our daughters were born while I was a student (one in my last year of college and two during law school). Although being a good student and a good parent requires creativity, I found it less challenging to be a student parent than to balance parenting with a full time job! I was fortunate to have a husband who shared the work with me, and supportive friends and extended family members who were willing to take the girls to the park during exam weeks. We ate a lot of cereal, and my house was messy more often than I liked. But it was a great experience, and a time my family and I remember fondly.

There are so many student groups and activities. What advice do you have for an entering student in terms of choosing activities?
Activities are wonderful because they can supplement your legal education, help you meet professionals and classmates who share your interests, and give you the opportunity to serve the local community. The UW Law School is a very diverse place, so the choices are abundant, no matter what constraints you have on your out-of-class time.

Was there a law school experience that was particularly important or meaningful for you?
During my second year of law school, I began working as a research assistant to Professors Michael Smith and Walter Dickey. At the time, they were drafting amicus curiae briefs to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a series of cases that interpreted the state’s newly-adopted sentencing laws. In their briefs, the professors provided the courts with an outside perspective on what the law was and what it might be, pointing out possibilities that the parties had not addressed, or had merely sketched. In the end, the court adopted some of the concepts and language suggested by the amici. It was law in action at its best.

Why did you decide to apply for a judicial clerkship?
During law school, I discovered that I loved reading, writing and thinking about law. I also enjoyed my experience as a research assistant, interacting with professors and wrestling with legal theories. Kristin Davis, the law school’s clerkship advisor, encouraged me to explore the possibility of clerking. After talking to alumni and professors, I decided that working with a judge would be a good way to explore the law in greater depth, pick up some good habits, and ideally, be of assistance along the way.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in judicial clerkships after law school?
Study hard, of course. Beyond that, get to know several professors well and seek out opportunities to research and write. It helps to serve as a research or teaching assistant, or to work on a law review or journal. There are many Wisconsin professors and alumni who are willing to discuss clerkships with students who want to know more about what law clerks do and why people choose to clerk after graduation.

What did you like most about living in Madison?
Madison has many of the amenities of a larger city with the safety and friendliness of a small town. You can study at a local café, buy organic groceries, and catch a surprising number of high quality performances. At the same time, your neighbors will probably know your name and you can drive anywhere in the city in half an hour or less. My family appreciates all the free activities in the city for children: the zoo, art museums, farmer’s market, Concerts on the Square. It’s a great place to live at any age.

Do you have any advice for an incoming 1L?
Maintain perspective. Law school is important; life is more important. Work hard and establish goals, but don’t put your friends, family, and other interests on hold during your law school years. Maintain personal relationships and find people inside and outside the law school who will help you pursue excellence without losing touch with the commitments and people that matter to you.

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