Dean's Desk: Pro bono projects broaden opportunities, instill values

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dean-buxbaun-hannahPreparing students for the rigors and complexity of today’s legal profession requires schools to focus not only on doctrinal analysis, but also on the complete set of professional competencies that successful lawyers require. Toward that end, the faculty at the I.U. Maurer School of Law has adopted a series of initiatives aimed at expanding the range of experiential learning opportunities available to our students.

Maurer students can get hands-on experience through several full-scale clinics, where they work on real solutions for real clients under the supervision of a faculty member. They can also participate in externships in a variety of practice settings, either during the academic year or in the summer. These opportunities give our students a practical context in which they can learn to deploy the substantive law they have been studying in other classes.

Another arena for experiential learning is our pro bono “projects.” As lawyers, we have a commitment to provide the best possible advice to our clients, while promoting equal access to justice for all members of our community. At Maurer, our students’ pro bono commitment starts in the very first year – with tangible benefits that last far beyond graduation.

In 2009, we adopted an aspirational goal encouraging students to fulfill 60 hours of pro bono work during their three years of schooling. Although this was not a mandatory goal, our hope was that students would dedicate an average of 20 hours each year to providing law-related services without pay or academic credit.

Three years later, our pro bono program – Access to Justice – has become a central feature of student life in our community. More than 300 Indiana Law students (40 percent of our enrollment) contributed an aggregate of 24,740 hours of community service in 2012. Many students fulfill their requirement by participating in one of our projects:

Our Pro Bono Immigration Project enables students to support the unmet legal needs of non-citizens in Bloomington and central Indiana. New in 2012, this project helps immigrants with visa and citizenship-related matters, assists refugees with requests for asylum, and joins forces with other related organizations, such as the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis. Fifty first-year students signed up to volunteer this year; 11 clients have already been served since PIP’s founding.

Indiana Law’s Protective Order Project offers free legal help to people who have suffered domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking. POP student volunteers are trained to support clients throughout the filing and renewal of a protective order petition. In 2012, more than 40 clients received assistance from POP.

The LGBT Project engages students, attorneys, scholars and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates to research and analyze legal issues affecting the rights of Indiana’s LGBT residents. Following a successful pilot in the spring of 2012, this project is pursuing important initiatives such as anti-bullying policies in Indiana schools, anti-discrimination ordinances and research on the impact of marriage inequality in Indiana.

Inmates at the federal prison in Terre Haute receive assistance from students participating in the Inmate Legal Assistance Project. Volunteers are exposed to a wide variety of legal matters, from direct appeals and ineffective assistance of counsel to tort claims, family law, and other civil issues. Twenty-one students are participating in ILAP this semester.

Monroe County tenants facing immediate eviction get help from Maurer’s Tenant Assistance Project. Forty-one TAP volunteers offer advice, negotiate on behalf of tenants, and refer more complex cases to Indiana Legal Services and other pro bono organizations.

Our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project offers free tax assistance to low-income, elderly, disabled, and limited English-speaking residents of Monroe County. The walk-in clinic includes an assessment of whether clients are taking advantage of all available benefits, including the earned income tax credit. Volunteers from Indiana Law and the I.U. Kelley School of Business are trained and certified by the Internal Revenue Service. In 2012, more than 400 clients benefited from VITA.

Besides providing innovative learning experiences for our students, these programs are important for another reason: They help inculcate the values of pro bono service in our students before they begin practicing. Doing so yields at least three benefits:

Hands-on experience. Graduates entering the legal marketplace need all the advantages they can get. Being able to demonstrate to potential employers that they have done real legal work for real clients will help students secure full-time employment.

The social justice habit. There’s no better time to develop good pro bono habits than when a student is in law school. Setting goals and working to achieve them is an important discipline that yields rewards throughout one’s professional life. By the time our students have graduated, they’ve made pro bono work an integral part of their professional life.

The right thing to do. With professional success comes responsibility. Being a lawyer can be professionally and financially rewarding, and pro bono representation is a measurable and tangible way to give back to the community that has contributed to our success.

Our pro bono projects prepare students for the practice of law while instilling the important professional values of service to the community and equal access to justice for all. I am impressed by our students’ commitment to these projects and confident that they will be better lawyers because of it.•

XBTXHannah L. Buxbaum is Interim Dean and John E. Schiller Chair in Legal Ethics at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. The opinions expressed are the author’s.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.