City interns learn the law, save taxpayers money

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  • | 12:00 p.m. July 31, 2006
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by Liz Daube

Staff Writer

The General Counsel’s Office is saving taxpayer dollars and giving students a chance to learn the law at the same time.

Interns for the City’s Municipal Law Clinic complete a variety of research and writing tasks for general counsel attorneys. In exchange, they get school credit hours and experience – but they don’t get paid.

Those intern hours – which clients and taxpayers don’t pay for – save the City a lot of money, according to Greg Radlinski, clinic co-director and environmental attorney. The program replaced a previous system of paid, third-year law students shortly after Rick Mullaney became general counsel.

Mullaney has estimated that the clinic has saved taxpayers more than $1 million since its 1998 inception. Interns completed about $300,000 in billable hours last year alone, according to the clinic’s Web site.

“The devotion of the interns, for not being paid, is really exceptional,” said Collette Cunningham, assistant general litigation attorney and clinic co-director. She and Radlinski took over the program when Tony Zebouni, the original director, left in January.

Radlinski said the interns are typically entering or exiting their second year of law school when they start working at the clinic. The majority of interns come from Florida Coastal School of Law or the University of Florida, but the clinic looks for students from other schools, as well. They also accept some pre-law undergraduate interns.

The two current interns, Brad Hogan and Megan Uncel, had 11 other students working with them earlier in the summer. Hogan hails from Columbia Law School in New York and Uncel is completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Florida.

Hogan said he’s enjoyed getting exposed to a variety of legal work. He lived in Jacksonville when he was in the military and his wife still lives here, but Hogan said he’s learned a lot about the local government.

“My friends still working in New York do less work than I do, and they’re getting paid,” said Hogan. He explained that extra work is a positive for law students because it translates to experience. For every seven memoranda of law he writes, Hogan estimates his friends at other internships only get to write one.

“Law school is very academic,” said Hogan. “I came here and my first case involved people I knew. It makes it more real and it gives you an idea of what the role of an attorney might be in a community.”

Cunningham said variety is the clinic’s strong point. The program also brings in guest speakers and takes interns on field trips to places like the county jail or the state attorney’s office, according to Radlinski.

“When you’re young in your career, you really don’t know exactly what you want to do,” said Cunningham. “This office gives you the opportunity to touch on a wide variety of legal issues. You can say, ‘I loved this,’ or ‘I hated this.’ ”

Uncel said she can’t contribute as much legal work as Hogan because she’s not in law school yet, but the research she’s done has taught her a lot.

“I never wanted to do anything else but be a lawyer since I was a kid – this has just confirmed that,” she said. “When I get to law school, I won’t feel so deer-in-headlights.”

Radlinski said the clinic interns change every spring, summer and fall, but the program largely stays the same.

“The law is not seasonal,” he said. Radlinski added that new interns will be arriving in August and they always get a chance to rub shoulders with City officials.

“The mayor meets with all of our interns, and he always asks them, ‘What are you learning, and are you having fun?’” said Radlinski.

Uncel added, “And we always say yes.”