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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 is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  2. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  3. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

  4. Dear Fan, let me help you correct the title to your post. "ACLU is [Left] most of the time" will render it accurate. Just google it if you doubt that I am, err, "right" about this: "By the mid-1930s, Roger Nash Baldwin had carved out a well-established reputation as America’s foremost civil libertarian. He was, at the same time, one of the nation’s leading figures in left-of-center circles. Founder and long time director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Baldwin was a firm Popular Fronter who believed that forces on the left side of the political spectrum should unite to ward off the threat posed by right-wing aggressors and to advance progressive causes. Baldwin’s expansive civil liberties perspective, coupled with his determined belief in the need for sweeping socioeconomic change, sometimes resulted in contradictory and controversial pronouncements. That made him something of a lightning rod for those who painted the ACLU with a red brush." http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/roger-baldwin-2/ "[George Soros underwrites the ACLU' which It supports open borders, has rushed to the defense of suspected terrorists and their abettors, and appointed former New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its Advisory Board." http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237 "The creation of non-profit law firms ushered in an era of progressive public interest firms modeled after already established like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") to advance progressive causes from the environmental protection to consumer advocacy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_lawyering

  5. Mr. Foltz: Your comment that the ACLU is "one of the most wicked and evil organizations in existence today" clearly shows you have no real understanding of what the ACLU does for Americans. The fact that the state is paying out so much in legal fees to the ACLU is clear evidence the ACLU is doing something right, defending all of us from laws that are unconstitutional. The ACLU is the single largest advocacy group for the US Constitution. Every single citizen of the United States owes some level of debt to the ACLU for defending our rights.

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