Alumni Voices: Peter Doely ’13 on Co-Teaching Insurance Law Clinic
Alumni Voices is an occasional series of articles in which alumni share their perspectives. Minneapolis attorney Peter Doely ’13, who co-teaches Minnesota Law’s Insurance Law Clinic, contributed this piece.
THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA Law School offers its students the opportunity to learn how to practice law in a hands-on way. As part of the Law School’s clinical training program, students can study a particular area of law and then provide pro bono legal representation under the supervision of licensed attorneys. When I was a student at the Law School, from 2010–13, I participated in the Child Advocacy Clinic. Now, since the fall semester of 2019, I am an adjunct professor co-teaching the Insurance Law Clinic.
Although clinical education has generally grown in popularity, the Insurance Law Clinic is the only one of its kind in the country. Margo Brownell, an attorney with Maslon, started and taught the clinic beginning in 2012; more recently, Richard Allyn ’69, an attorney with Robins Kaplan, has led and taught the clinic. Last year Bryan Freeman ’06 and I, both with Maslon, joined the team and now help teach and supervise case work. Each year there are also several student directors (who were students the previous year) to help make sure everything runs smoothly.
The Insurance Law Clinic is a yearlong course that has two components. In the seminar portion, we provide an overview of Minnesota insurance law. An understanding of the law is, of course, important. But what sets the clinics apart from other courses at the Law School is the other component: the case work. Students are certified under the Minnesota Student Practice Rules and provide legal representation to clients. In the Insurance Law Clinic, we focus on advising policyholders as they navigate insurance coverage issues.
When potential clients are referred to the clinic, the students do everything any attorney would do—contact the potential clients, get basic information, run conflicts, and set up a time for an interview. When the potential clients come into the clinic, two students will lead the interview, but all the other students, along with the adjunct professors, can ask follow-up questions. We then decide as a group whether to provide representation. If we do, we assign a team to take primary responsibility for the matter. Each team is made up of one adjunct professor, one student director, and two students. We then work the matter to resolution.
Working with the students to provide pro bono representation has been the highlight of teaching the clinic for me. The clients, who are generally low-income, have issues with a variety of insurance policies, from medical to automobile to liability. These are important cases for people who need legal help and would otherwise have trouble getting it—and the clinic meets this need with students who are enthusiastic, engaged, and dedicated to their work.
One matter in particular stood out for me this year. In it, our clients had a dispute with their insurer as to whether there is coverage related to an automobile accident. When they came to the clinic, the insurer had already initiated a lawsuit and our clients were proceeding pro se, preparing for their upcoming trial. When the clinic looked into the lawsuit, we discovered that— unknown to our clients—judgment had already been entered against them. I am the supervising attorney for this matter, and Hannah Payne, 3L, Zach Wright, 2L, and Yongxian Wang, 2L, round out the team. Working together, we moved the court on behalf of our clients to vacate the judgment, along with certain other relief. The students, with my guidance, compiled the factual record and drafted the motion papers. Even though the briefing schedule ended up being over finals and the holidays, the team met the challenge with talent, tenacity, and good cheer. Zach and Xian argued the motions, and the court granted our clients relief.
The clinic allows me to engage with driven students and provide pro bono representation to clients, both of which have been a pleasure. The clinic also allows me to learn from my well-versed colleagues. As the most junior of the adjunct professors for the clinic, I, like the students, benefit a great deal from the other faculty members’ experience. All in all, it has been wonderful. I thank the Law School for the opportunity, the other adjunct professors for their leadership, the students for their hard work, and Maslon for supporting our efforts. If anyone gets the chance to teach a clinic, I would highly recommend doing so.