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Clinic supports South Bend community

Letter to the editor | Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Katherine Leahy’s Nov. 21 Viewpoint article (“Legal Aid Clinic exists to help the poor”) expressed concern that the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic might be straying from its mission to serve the poor. I am happy to report that this is not the case. To the contrary, the Legal Aid Clinic remains one of the university’s most significant, yet least known, community outreach programs. This semester, thirty law students and four on-site faculty members have provided legal services to over two hundred low-income clients in the South Bend area.

The Legal Aid Clinic, located several blocks south of campus at 725 Howard Street, is the Law School’s teaching clinic. It plays a similar role to a teaching hospital at a medical school, allowing law students an opportunity to engage in hands-on learning by representing clients under close faculty supervision. But the Clinic is about more than teaching lawyering skills. In the best tradition of community-based learning, it allows students to see firsthand the challenges facing the poor, the mentally ill, immigrants, the elderly and other marginalized groups, and to put Catholic social teaching into action by representing those persons in the legal system.

As part of their work in the Clinic, our students also present public education programs on areas of the law in which they have developed expertise. This semester, the students made presentations at the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the Madison Center and the Robinson Center. In addition, at the request of Student Government, and as reported in The Observer, our students made a presentation on landlord-tenant law to undergraduate students considering an off-campus move.

Katherine Leahy apparently mistook this last presentation as an indication that the Clinic now represents undergraduate students (we do not) or that it has lessened its commitment to serving the poor (we have not). The Clinic does attempt to be responsive to the needs of the university community, however, and has previously accepted invitations to speak to employees about end-of-life planning issues and to international students about housing issues.

With respect to Ms. Leahy’s concern regarding the needs of immigrants, it is true that the Clinic’s capacity for immigration work has been reduced this year by the departure of one of its faculty members. I am happy to report, however, that the Law School is in the process of hiring a new clinical faculty member who will focus exclusively on immigration law beginning next fall.

Earlier today, Clinic students attended the last classroom session of the fall semester. I invited the students to share with one another what they have accomplished for their clients this term. Two students recorded lists of accomplishments on the white board for twenty minutes without pausing. Our students saved houses from foreclosure, helped immigrants obtain legal status, helped reform a nursing home, secured recoveries for defrauded consumers, arranged guardianships for mentally ill clients, helped a terminally ill young mother prepare a will and provide for care for her surviving children, recovered security deposits wrongly withheld by landlords from poor tenants, helped elderly clients prepare wills, health care powers, and other end-of-life instruments, secured benefits for disabled children and adults, pushed for better community living opportunities for the developmentally disabled and worked to end illegal debt collection practices. That’s just the beginning of the list. Notre Dame can be proud of the service that the Clinic provides.

Bob Jones, Jr.

director

Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic

Dec. 4