2L Greg Vanevenhoven: What I learned on the Indian Wills Caravan


Ten UW Law students participated in the Indian Wills Caravan, a hands-on volunteer experience that offered a glimpse into the life of a practicing attorney. Students, along with supervising attorneys, traveled to locations in southwestern Wisconsin to assist Native Americans with estate planning documents and advance directives. Over the course of one week in January, the group completed more than 75 wills for clients, many of whom had no previous estate planning documents in place.

Second-year student Greg Vanevenhoven, a volunteer on the caravan, described his experience.

What made you decide to participate in the caravan?

I was interested in this trip because I'm considering specializing in trusts and estates, but I learned so much more than I initially expected. I gained experience explaining legal concepts to a client. And I definitely improved my confidence and my ability to interact with clients, a useful and important skill.

How did students prepare for the trip?

We spent the first day of the trip training at the Law School. One of the attorneys supervising the caravan presented background information on Native Americans in Wisconsin, as well as some of the unique concerns they face in drafting estate planning documents. We were also led through a "mock interview," which showcased the questions we would ask our clients in the workshops.

How was a day on the caravan structured?

When we arrived at a designated location, law students would set up their stations and gather any written materials needed for the day. As clients arrived, we helped them draft wills and prepare other advance directives, like powers of attorney and health care forms, and we entered the information into a template. A supervising attorney then checked our work and reviewed it with the client. When clients signed their wills, students also acted as witnesses. With each client, the process took one to two hours.

What was the best part of the trip?

Interacting with clients was the best part of the trip, but it was also the part I was most nervous about, since it was new to me. After meeting my first client, I began to overcome my initial worry. As the week went on, my interactions with clients became easier, and I became more confident in my ability to explain the form we used. By the end of the week, I began to feel like a real lawyer. Also, getting to know my law school classmates better was a great opportunity.

What advice would you give someone considering taking a similar trip?

Don't be afraid to go on a trip like this, even if you are not necessarily interested in estate planning. Interacting with clients and drafting legal documents is useful for every area of law. Employers would appreciate seeing young law students and future attorneys with this kind of experience.

Submitted by Law School News on March 12, 2013

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