After the first few years of law school, Roxana Cortes was exhausted. 

Her University of Nebraska College of Law classes were tough and she was used to getting straight As. She graduated magna cum laude at the top of her undergraduate class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

She wanted to give up, but Cortes, who had immigrated from Mexico at age 11, had spent years dreaming of becoming a lawyer. 

She applied to be part of the Immigration Clinic and, to her surprise, was accepted. 

"Despite the excitement, the thought of two not-so-great years of grades covered my hopes with a big shadow of doubt," said Cortes, who graduated last year. 

Working in the Nebraska Law legal clinic brought Cortes' love for law back to life, however. 

On Friday, Cortes spoke at the grand opening of the Marvin and Virginia Schmid Clinic Building. The space opened to students working in legal clinics earlier this semester.

UNL first introduced legal clinics in 1975, when professor Peter Hoffman launched what is now the Civil Clinic. Now, the school also has a Criminal Clinic, Immigration Clinic and Weibling Entrepreneurship Clinic.

The clinics give students the opportunity to gain real-world experience while finishing their degree. Students work with clients and have the opportunity to handle cases. 

"During my year as a student attorney, I was able to experience the rigor of the real practice of law, which allowed me to have a smooth transition into the real world once I passed the bar," Cortes said. "It also led me to learn that grades and class rank are not indicative of one's ability to practice law."

The 16,000-square-foot addition includes several classrooms, a mock courtroom, interview rooms for students to meet with clients, a reception area, conference rooms and desk space for 40 students.

"The real-life experiences that our clients bring to our clinics enable our students to make great strides in turning theory into practice, in confronting ethical issues in real time and in getting invaluable experience in solving problems, trying cases and otherwise preparing themselves to enter the practice of law," said Kevin Ruser, professor of law and director of the college's clinical programs. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or twilliams@journalstar.com.

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