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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. Falk said “At this point, at this minute, we’ll savor this particular victory.” “It certainly is a historic week on this front,” Cockrum said. “What a delight ... “Happy Independence Day to the women of the state of Indiana,” WOW. So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)

  2. congratulations on such balanced journalism; I also love how fetus disposal affects women's health protection, as covered by Roe...

  3. It truly sickens me every time a case is compared to mine. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld my convictions based on a finding of “hidden threats.” The term “hidden threat” never appeared until the opinion in Brewington so I had no way of knowing I was on trial for making hidden threats because Dearborn County Prosecutor F Aaron Negangard argued the First Amendment didn't protect lies. Negangard convened a grand jury to investigate me for making “over the top” and “unsubstantiated” statements about court officials, not hidden threats of violence. My indictments and convictions were so vague, the Indiana Court of Appeals made no mention of hidden threats when they upheld my convictions. Despite my public defender’s closing arguments stating he was unsure of exactly what conduct the prosecution deemed to be unlawful, Rush found that my lawyer’s trial strategy waived my right to the fundamental error of being tried for criminal defamation because my lawyer employed a strategy that attempted to take advantage of Negangard's unconstitutional criminal defamation prosecution against me. Rush’s opinion stated the prosecution argued two grounds for conviction one constitutional and one not, however the constitutional true threat “argument” consistently of only a blanket reading of subsection 1 of the intimidation statute during closing arguments, making it impossible to build any kind of defense. Of course intent was impossible for my attorney to argue because my attorney, Rush County Chief Public Defender Bryan Barrett refused to meet with me prior to trial. The record is littered with examples of where I made my concerns known to the trial judge that I didn’t know the charges against me, I did not have access to evidence, all while my public defender refused to meet with me. Special Judge Brian Hill, from Rush Superior Court, refused to address the issue with my public defender and marched me to trial without access to evidence or an understanding of the indictments against me. Just recently the Indiana Public Access Counselor found that four over four years Judge Hill has erroneously denied access to the grand jury audio from my case, the most likely reason being the transcription of the grand jury proceedings omitted portions of the official audio record. The bottom line is any intimidation case involves an action or statement that is debatably a threat of physical violence. There were no such statements in my case. The Indiana Supreme Court took partial statements I made over a period of 41 months and literally connected them with dots… to give the appearance that the statements were made within the same timeframe and then claimed a person similarly situated would find the statements intimidating while intentionally leaving out surrounding contextual factors. Even holding the similarly situated test was to be used in my case, the prosecution argued that the only intent of my public writings was to subject the “victims” to ridicule and hatred so a similarly situated jury instruction wouldn't even have applied in my case. Chief Justice Rush wrote the opinion while Rush continued to sit on a committee with one of the alleged victims in my trial and one of the judges in my divorce, just as she'd done for the previous 7+ years. All of this information, including the recent PAC opinion against the Dearborn Superior Court II can be found on my blog www.danbrewington.blogspot.com.

  4. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  5. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

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