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. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.