During his third year of law school, Clayton Miller was tossed a financial lifeline.
At Indiana University Maurer School of Law, he had been relying on federal student loans and money borrowed from his parents to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses. He was not in danger of having to discontinue his studies, but he was adding to his debt load and increasing the amount of time he needed to repay it.
But then Miller received a $1,000 scholarship from the Indiana Bar Foundation. He refers to the financial aid as a “happy surprise” and said it provided an affirmation of his work in student organizations.
Miller, now a partner at Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn LLP, is an example of the work of the bar foundation. The organization, started in 1950, has grown over the years but its mission has always been the same – promoting civic education and improving access to justice.
Chuck Dunlap has seen this work in his 14 years as executive director.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the bar foundation, which has had challenges, has the ability to be creative and entrepreneurial in programming and getting resources for the programs that help people,” he said. “Ultimately, the programs draw their strength from the people who volunteer for the bar foundation.”
For several decades, the foundation functioned as a grant-giving organization. It provided funding to support the programs and agencies which aligned with its mission. By the mid-1990s, the foundation began taking a more hands-on role.
In particular, the nonprofit administers the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account program which provides the funds to support the 12 pro bono districts in Indiana. The districts then recruit volunteer attorneys to provide legal representation to indigent Hoosiers. In 2014, a total of 1,300 attorneys and volunteers helped with 2,954 pro bono cases.
In recent years, the foundation stepped in to handle the education programs We the People and the Indiana High School Mock Trial. It provides materials and teacher training, coordinates the competitions, and recruits legal professionals to help with the state competitions.
As the foundation elevated its role in these activities, then-board member Robert Beasley remembered feeling a little bit of trepidation. Certainly the hands-on approach fit with the organization’s mission, but he still worried because the foundation at that time had no track record of being directly involved in programming.
The Muncie attorney, of counsel at Dennis Wenger & Abrell P.C., now holds special appreciation for the foundation staff and board after watching them embrace the new level of activity. He is also “extremely proud” of how supportive the attorneys have been in donating their time.
‘To form a more perfect union’
Miller has volunteered to judge students at the We the People competition and to help train teachers on the material. He especially liked working with the educators.
“I am a great believer in and proponent of the value of civic education,” Miller said, who received the William Oliver Baker Award for his volunteer work at the foundation. “I think that is one of the most important activities done by the foundation.”
One of the many educators who teach the We the People and mock trial curriculum is Janet Chandler, social studies department chair at Hamilton Southeastern High School. She enhanced her own knowledge of the Constitution and the law by receiving a J.D. from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2011.
Some of her students study the We the People program as part of their regular coursework and meet on Sunday afternoons, doing a tremendous amount of research to learn about the philosophy behind the U.S. system of government. Mock trial participants are selected by audition and then meet often in the evenings to hone their courtroom skills.
Daniel Thomas, attorney in the Marion County Public Defender Agency, is a former student of Chandler who returns occasionally to help the mock trial teams. He teaches them things such as how to make cohesive and cogent objections.
His own experience in mock trial in 2005 and 2006 solidified his desire to become a lawyer. He learned public speaking, critical thinking and even some rules of evidence which helped him during his studies at Valparaiso University Law School.
More than teaching students about the law, Chandler said the programs also present the opportunity for students to interact with adults in the community and learn valuable skills.
“No matter what kind of job they get in the future, they’re going to be able to take the experience they learned and use it in many different professions,” Chandler said.
Munster High School’s We the People alumnus Katherine Ntiamoah is the deputy press attaché and assistant spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels.
She credits her participation in the program with enabling her to delve into the history and the workings of the U.S. government as well as teaching her the importance of civic engagement and public service.
As a student, she went to the national We the People competition in Washington, D.C. She was inspired by the city.
“Every time I go back to D.C., I still have the same feeling that I had more than 10 years ago as a We the People student,” she said.
Talking about his pro bono activities, solo practitioner Casey Cloyd stressed he did nothing special.
“I’m not unique. There are plenty of lawyers that do this,” he said.
Cloyd was referring to his work with the Indiana Appellate Pro Bono Project, a program that helps low-income Hoosiers find an attorney who will volunteer to represent them in an appeal. He considers volunteering a professional obligation and doing appellate work, whether pro bono or not, is something he always enjoys.
Most recently, he represented two women who were trying to retain custody of a little girl who they had been raising since infancy. He received the email alert from the Indiana Court of Appeals as he was driving, so he pulled over to read the eight-page opinion, then called his clients with good news.
“When you help people, whether you get paid or not, it should be something that makes you feel good,” Cloyd said.
To encourage more private dollars for civil legal aid, Dunlap and others spent the spring meeting with community philanthropic groups around the state. The goal was to raise awareness of the need for such services and explain how legal help can prevent bad situations from becoming worse.
In 2016, the foundation will coordinate a conference in Washington, D.C., with other civil legal aid programs that have similarly reached out to private donors. Dunlap said the objective is to provide tools that the legal community can use to create a broader base of philanthropic support.
The foundation’s reputation in civic education has drawn national attention. The Center for Civic Education, which runs the We the People program, has tapped the Indiana organization to run the national high school competition.
“It’s a vote of confidence for us as an organization and the network of people around the state who have been doing this for so long and so well,” Dunlap said.
Beyond the classroom, the foundation is working to encourage civic involvement. Former Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard is part of that effort. He joined former Congressman Lee Hamilton to present the results of the 2015 Indiana Civic Health Index to several groups around the state.
Shepard sees the index as encouraging individuals and organizations to think about ways they might foster more civic engagement in their communities. He also noted the role the foundation and attorneys have in promoting such involvement.
“I think it’s great for us as a profession that it’s lawyers who work to improve the general public understanding about the rule of law and civic engagement,” he said. “I think lawyers are entitled to take some pride in that.”•
Click here to read more about the benefit dinner's keynot speaker, journalist Bob Woodward.