The Way We Were: Spotlight on Terry Player

In honor of our 40th anniversary celebration, USD Legal Clinics is pleased to present “The Way We Were,” a blog segment featuring the profile and perspective of the pioneers that conceptualized, implemented and carried forward the early years of the Legal Clinics.  This week’s segment highlights Professor Terry Player.

Professor Terry Player

Terry Player’s initial affiliation with the USD Legal Clinics came just a few years after the clinics were founded and she was working at Legal Aid as a staff attorney. “Right around 1974, I was working in the Welfare Unit and we worked with clients that were on AFDC, TANF, WIC, food stamps and SSI,” recalls Player. “One night a week, students from USD came over and interviewed clients. I supervised them as they interviewed the clients and worked on the cases. We were all volunteering our time at that point and the students weren’t yet receiving credit. Even so they were total superstars; they worked so hard on those cases.”

Shortly thereafter, Charlie Lynch was hired to direct the Legal Clinics and the law school began offering credit for the work students were doing through the Welfare Clinic. Bert Lazerow then asked Player to teach Poverty Law II, which covered welfare programs including legislation and litigation at the state and national levels. In 1980, after she had left Legal Aid and was in private practice, she was hired full-time to teach in the Civil Clinic. For the next few years she taught in the Civil Clinic with Prof. Walter Heiser, with whom she also taught Advanced Trial Advocacy.

“The cases we saw in the Civil Clinic then were pretty much the same as what we see now,” explains Player. “In terms of the welfare cases, we saw a lot of people wrongly terminated or those that had filed an application and weren’t accepted. So we represented people in administrative hearings and if they were denied, we appealed it to the next administrative level and, if necessary, we filed a writ of administrative mandamus for judicial review.”

In 1983, Prof. Heiser was promoted to Associate Dean and Player replaced him as Director of the Legal Clinics. “At that time the Clinic faculty consisted of Steve Hartwell, Allen Snyder, Laura Berend, Rick Barron, Corky Wharton and myself. With the six of us, we were able to do some really interesting things,” recollects Player. “We wanted the clinic to be special, so we picked one of our classes (Trial Techniques) and spent an entire summer developing the course, now called Lawyering Skills II.” She notes that they wanted to put together a course that comprehensively put the student in the role of the lawyer, beginning with the initial interview all the way through the end of a jury trial. This experience culminates with mock jury trials, which were initially held in downtown San Diego and are now held in the South Bay court house.

During the mock trial, community members sit as jurors, and either actual judges or attorneys preside as judges and run the proceedings like a real trial. The jury deliberates in front of the students acting as lawyers, so they can see the decision-making points that persuade people. “For these students, at their level of knowledge, this process is really hard and at the same time it is so crucial,” comments Player. “Students learn how to deal with witnesses who are lying, how to cross examine and how to interact with judges and the opposing counsel. It’s really a major accomplishment for students once they complete it.”

This opportunity to experience firsthand the ins and outs of being a practicing attorney has been at the heart of the Legal Clinics since its inception. Player recalls that a challenge in creating that experience during the first decades of the clinics was space. “When I started, Room 308 in the law school was the entire clinic, with six offices for faculty and tiny airless rooms with no windows for the students,” describes Player. Clients came there to see students about their legal problems, and they used the outer office as a waiting room; sometimes it got very crowded, with students, clients and clinical faculty trying to solve clients’ legal problems. “We also had the use of the space that was called ‘the Faculty Library’ although few faculty members ever used it. Of course, in those days, to do legal research, you needed books and shelves and tables and chairs,” she adds. That space is now taken up by classrooms 3C, 314 and 315.

“When the clinics first started, we had very few resources and a lot of work to do. This is just luxury,” says Player sweeping her arms around. “And not only in terms of space, but also technology. In those beginning days, if we had to file a paper with the court, it had to be typed on a typewriter with carbon paper, and if you made a mistake you had to go through and correct each carbon copy.”

As the clinics have grown and technology has evolved, Player has maintained a consistent role within the Legal Clinics.  She has taught Trial Techniques (later transformed into Lawyering Skills II), Evidence and Evidence Advocacy as well as Negotiations and Interviewing & Counseling.  She even assisted Prof. Richard Carpenter in the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, when it was first added to the Clinic Curriculum.  At one point she also wrote a book, co-authored with two practicing lawyers and Dean Rex Perschbacher of UC Davis, called California Trial Technique published by Callahan.

Now, after almost 35 years with the clinics she continues to teach as well as supervise students in the Civil Clinic. “I think we’ve really accomplished the task of creating an experience that closely tracks the reality of law practice in all of our clinics. Students get a lot of hands-on experience because we put them in the driver’s seat. And of course we’re there as a safety net if a student goes off base,” states Player. “They learn how to deal with clients, with opposing lawyers, with judges and with the stress that comes with real practice. And I’ll tell you, even in the Lawyering Skills II class, once they’ve had that mock trial experience, they leave feeling like they’ve experienced their first true day in court.”

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