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Dean's Desk: Notre Dame expands course, clinical offerings

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dean-newton-notre-dameGreetings from the University of Notre Dame Law School. I’m honored to have this opportunity to share some of my experiences and initiatives with the readers of the Indiana Lawyer, and I look forward to continue learning from my fellow deans as well.

After decades of steady prosperity, unprecedented changes and challenges have come to the legal profession. During the good times, applicants to law schools could expect a wide variety of choices in the private or public sectors. While tuition increased steadily, public and private loans were plentiful and many law schools provided generous loan repayment assistance programs to encourage graduates to take lower-paying, but challenging and satisfying positions in the public or nonprofit sector. Private sector salaries increased, and the top firms competed with each other for our best students by raising associate salaries and creating 2L summer associate positions that appeared to be comprised of a series of outings and meals at expensive restaurants, interspersed with with occasional assignments.

And then came the recession – longer, deeper, and presaging more structural changes in law practice than any of the recessions before it. Big firms are hiring fewer attorneys to fill fewer first-year associate positions and have discovered to their chagrin that clients are no longer willing to pay for first- and second- (and sometimes third-) year associates at the high rates that have become customary. Many firms have also downsized their training programs and joined the call for law schools to produce graduates who can make the transition from classroom to practice more quickly.

I won’t join the crowd that either puts the blame for these problems on the law schools or the group that argues we have no reason to change what has worked so well for us for decades. I do not believe any newly minted lawyer can truly be expected to hit the ground running the moment she passes the bar exam. Some degree of on-the-job training will always be necessary. But as educators, we can make sure that in addition to the theoretical and critical-thinking skills we have always excelled at imparting, we also make sure our students have the opportunity to acquire more of the law-practice and professional-relationship skills that will better prepare them for the changing nature of law practice.

To meet these challenges, Notre Dame is offering more interdisciplinary courses to expand the breadth of our course offerings, five new programs of study to enable our students to pursue areas of particular interest in greater depth, and expanded experiential learning opportunities.

For many years, the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic served as a general civil legal services litigation practice for the law school. Recently, the clinic’s work has begun to evolve to better reflect the changing legal marketplace, the range of practice areas that NDLS graduates will enter, and the needs of the South Bend community. In January, Clinical Professor Robert L. Jones Jr., became our first Associate Dean for Experiential Programs. In that position, he will be leading an expansion of experiential learning opportunities at NDLS.

New clinical offerings are already under way. The NDLS Mediation Project serves individuals litigating civil disputes in the courts of St. Joseph and surrounding Indiana counties. Cases include both civil and domestic relations matters, including child custody, support, parenting time, landlord-tenant disputes, contract disputes, and other matters referred by the courts for mediation.

Other initiatives are designed to expand the clinic’s transactional services to the business community. The Notre Dame Community Development Project launched this fall to assist community-based for-profit and nonprofit enterprises. This new NDLS clinic provides students with supervised legal practice experience representing nonprofits and small businesses in transactional matters, including corporate formation, tax exemption, risk management planning, regulatory compliance and real estate transfers. The Community Development Project is being led by professor Professor James Kelly, who comes to NDLS from Baltimore where he successfully built and led a similar clinic. Professor Kelly has deep experience in community development and was recently asked by Pete Buttigieg, South Bend’s new mayor, to co-chair a task force on abandoned housing in South Bend.

Meanwhile, the NDLS Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic just opened this January. Under the supervision of the newest member of our clinical faculty, Jodi Clifford, students gain valuable experience in applying intellectual property law to client problems and offer assistance to local businesses and entrepreneurs. Professor Clifford comes to NDLS from the Cleveland office of Thompson Hine, where her practice incorporated all aspects of intellectual property law.

In addition to the clinics, we have externships in asylum law, in intercollegiate athletics administration (which, as you can imagine, is a very popular choice for Irish students), and at the public defender’s office. Dean Jones is considering how we might offer additional opportunities for fieldwork by expanding in new geographical areas as well as new areas of law. Creating programs in other cities such as Chicago that have a substantial Notre Dame presence will enable NDLS students to take advantage of fieldwork opportunities outside South Bend.

No one program – or series of programs – can counter all the challenges facing today’s law students, but like all the other Indiana law schools, Notre Dame is determined to be pro-active in adapting to the changing needs of the legal marketplace. We are fortunate to have a national group of alumni who are actively engaged with the law school. They hire and mentor our students but are also willing to provide invaluable advice about the changing nature of law practice. I am convinced that by listening and evolving, we can continue to give our students the best opportunity to use their talents for the benefit of their clients, their profession, and the common good.•

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Nell Jessup Newton is The Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School. She has served as dean since 2009.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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