IndyBar: Bar Leader Series Participants Tackle Community Issues

By Claire Emswiller, Emswiller Williams Noland & Clarke PC, and Lindsay Faulkenberg, Kids’ Voice of Indiana

For the past six months, the members of the IndyBar’s Bar Leader Series Class XIV have been learning what it means to be a leader, both in their legal careers and in their respective communities and organizations. Through insight from top leaders in our community, a skills-building retreat, and group discussion, the participants have been developing skills in communication, organization and the ability to motivate and inspire others.

In order to provide an opportunity for the participants of the Bar Leader Series to actively utilize the skills and knowledge that they are learning during the series, the class has been asked to identify unmet needs and develop and execute community service projects aimed to fill those gaps as a benefit to the Indianapolis community.

The 20 class participants have split up into four teams, each representing a common interest or perceived need in the community. Through an active exercise done at the group’s retreat in September 2016, the teams identified and formed around the topics of homelessness, education, special needs, and youth.

Each of the teams conducted research to identify specific needs and challenges facing the communities within these topics in order to cultivate a concrete project that will directly address those needs in an active and sustainable way. The teams spend significant time during the series planning and implementing these projects and will then present their projects to the group and IndyBar community at their graduation in May. The groups are well on their way to completing their exciting projects this year and the Steering Committee is very excited to report on their progress:

Team #1 is helping to start a “legal center” at the Reuben Engagement Center (REC). For now, it will focus on estate planning documents, expungements and a possible ID station for homeless people staying at the center. The goal is for it to be an open opportunity for attorneys to donate their time, pro bono, and establish a connection with Indy’s homeless neighbors.

Team members are working to create a “deskbook” of forms that can easily be used by volunteer attorneys to help people accessing the REC create their will, living will, health care representative, power of attorney and funeral planning declaration. There will also be easy access expungement petitions. They will be working with the Marion County deputy prosecutor who primarily handles expungements to see if there is any way to streamline the expungement process for people applying through the REC. They are also working with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and state government to set up a station at the REC for people to get state-issued identification before they process out.

The team hopes to have the legal center up and running soon. In the beginning, this team will provide the pro bono services, but their goal will be to integrate the Pro Bono Committee of the IndyBar to help create a permanent presence with the center. The team will be speaking with REC residents soon to further their work.

Team #2 is working with students from Harshman Middle School who are part of the Dream Alive program on food and cooking education. This team is collaborating with the Patachou Foundation and will host four educational sessions; the first three sessions will combine classroom and hands-on components while the fourth session will be similar to the “Chopped” competition show on television. The fourth session will take place at the kitchen in the Chase Legacy Center.

Team #3 is looking to create some social stories for legal services to use for children with disabilities who are involved in the court process. Social stories are typically used for children with autism or those who need more concrete explanations. They break down what happens into simple steps and often incorporate photos or pictures to help explain. They help reduce anxiety and increase understanding of what is expected. The team will focus specifically on the legal processes where kids are likely to be involved (guardianship/adoption; juvenile justice; family law; general litigation) as well as some concepts (what is a lawyer, what is confidentiality). The stories will be shared with community organizations that deal specifically with children in the legal system and the group hopes to have them posted on organization’s websites. 

Team #4 is compiling answers to the top ten most commonly asked tenant rights questions. An informational booklet with those answers and additional information and resources will be drafted in both English and Spanish. The team will seek feedback on the booklets from partner organizations and circulate the final product to those partner organizations and other agencies throughout central Indiana.

Collectively, the teams spend about 50 hours of their time outside of the monthly Bar Leader Series sessions planning and implementing these projects. IndyBar members and guests are encouraged to attend graduation to hear firsthand about the great work done by this year’s class. Graduation will be held on May 16, 2017. More information to follow!•

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