Public Interest Law Initiative

PILI Pro Bono Spotlight: The John Marshall Law School Community Legal Clinics

Posted on: May 6, 2016

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The John Marshall Law School focuses on giving its students hands-on learning opportunities to apply what they are studying in the class room. One important part of this focus is the Community Legal Clinics, which not only provide JD candidates the opportunity to gain real legal experience, but also serve an important role in meeting the legal needs of underserved people in the community.

While there are nine clinics in total, we are spotlighting the three that are hosting PILI Graduate Fellows this summer, including the Pro Bono Program, Fair Housing Legal Support Center and Veterans Legal Support Center.

Pro Bono Program & Clinic

The mission of the Pro Bono Program & Clinic is to give law students real legal experience while helping individuals in the Chicagoland area who would otherwise not receive representation. The clinic works to provide students, professors and alumni with the opportunity and support to participate in pro bono activities.

Damian Ortiz, the Director of the Pro Bono Program & Clinic said that in addition to the many students who are involved, volunteers from the community help the clinic run smoothly. “We have partnerships with attorneys, law firms and organizations that help the clinic perform its operational functions and provide legal representation for our clients,” he said.

As an example of the type of work the clinic performs, Damian described one of the clinic’s several sections, the Federal Litigation Section. This section handles three prisoners’ rights cases per semester and has taken five cases to full jury trials. Each case has a team of four to six students who are supervised, trained and guided by professors in federal litigation. Another example Damian provided was the Foreclosure Section, which helps indigent homeowners who need legal assistance in defending their homes from foreclosure judgements.

“Clinics give incredibly valuable experience to law students,” said Damian, “and at the same time serve a need in the community.”

Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic

The Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic is dedicated to educating the public about fair housing law, and providing legal assistance to private or public organizations that seek to eliminate discriminatory housing practices.

“Perhaps more idealistically,” said Allison Bethel, the Director of the Fair Housing Clinic, “we see our mission as eradicating housing segregation and promoting integrated communities.

Some of the clinic’s projects include a federal court case involving a claim of disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation. The clinic is also helping amend Cook County’s fair housing laws to protect ex-offenders from discrimination.

The clinic partners with other fair housing, legal aid and public interest organizations to serve clients holistically. Students study federal, state and local housing discrimination laws, handle intakes and work on cases.

“Many of our students are interested in being public interest lawyers when they graduate and we try to help them establish contacts in that regard,” Allison said. “With proper supervision, eligible students are able to argue in court, take and defend depositions and basically act as the client’s lawyer.”

Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic

The primary focus of the Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic is appealing improper denials of benefits for veterans. Recently, the clinic has added a project to appeal discharge classifications as well. Clinical students, staff attorneys and volunteer attorneys help veterans navigate the complicated appeals process. Students help with research and questions, while volunteer attorneys take cases.

“The process can be byzantine,” said Brian Clauss, the Director of the Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic. “We’re working at the appellate level where clients can benefit from an attorney.”

The clinic itself is the first ever private space built to be sensitive to those with post traumatic stress disorder. Meeting rooms are more casual and windows into the hallway make it easy to see who is coming and going. This is part of what helps provide a comfortable space for veterans who are suffering from PTSD to discuss their private legal issues.

In an effort to expand their services, the clinic has partnered with Southern Illinois University School of Law, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation and Prairie State Legal Services to provide assistance to veterans outside of the Chicago area. Students at other schools volunteer at the clinic as well.

“One of the things we’re proudest of is that we’re helping to build the next generation of experts,” said Brian.

The John Marshall Law School Community Legal Clinics provide a great opportunity for students to gain real world legal experience, while also serving people in need. This is just a brief overview of three of the nine clinics offered at John Marshall. Learn more about all of the John Marshall Community Legal Clinics here >>

Read more of PILI’s Pro Bono Spotlights »

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