UA law programs provide free service
J.C. Sandberg, a third year UA law student, decided to participate in a program to provide free legal service in children protection cases because he likes kids - even though he wants to practice corporate law.
"I've seen an aspect of the law that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise," Sandberg said.
The University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law offers four programs, called clinics - child advocacy, domestic violence, immigration and tribal law - in which students provide free legal service to members of the community.
The clinics' purpose is to give law students hands-on experience and show them methods to carry into practice, said Andrew Silverman, the law school's director of clinical studies.
"Our students don't do anything without being guided or talking with a lawyer," Silverman said, who is also a clinical law professor. "I think our students are very prepared when they, for instance, go to court - sometimes they are better prepared than anyone else in that courtroom."
Sandberg and the child advocacy clinic's six other students take a class to learn legal skills and how to represent children. They are taught and supervised by Paul Bennett, the child advocacy clinic director and an assistant clinical professor.
"What we're about is trying to represent the child's best interests," Bennett said.
The child advocacy clinic is handling about 35 child protection cases this semester - many dealing with abuse or neglect.
"I want them to be able to make the judgment calls because that's where the learning takes place," Bennett said.
Zelda Harris, the domestic violence clinic director, said her program began through a volunteer effort by UA law students more than five years ago.
Since the clinic received UA funding, it has taken on protection cases, criminal defense cases and divorce and child custody cases in limited circumstances.
The students involved in the clinic - usually five to eight each semester - visit domestic violence shelters in Tucson and notify women of the free services they provide.
"I'm always impressed by the level of commitment and dedication (of the students)," said Harris, who is also an assistant clinical professor. "It really becomes very important to them and that's nice to see."
But Harris said students involved in the clinics learn skills applicable to all aspects of law, not just domestic violence.
"A critical part of what I do is teach students how to be a good attorney in any field," Harris said.
The immigration law clinic has been partially funded by the UA law school since 1997, the program's director, said Lynn Marcus, an adjunct assistant law professor.
"As for the people who aren't represented, we are the only people giving free legal advice," Marcus said.
More than half the cases handled by her four students involve political asylum - non-citizens seeking protection in the United States from their home country. Other cases deal with clients who want to become legal U.S. residents.
Robert Williams, the founder of the tribal law clinic, said the clinic's eight students represent tribes from Arizona and other countries help tribes develop statutes and legislation, provide research or work in tribal prosecution offices.
"It improves the quality workload by tribal courts," Williams said.
He said the tribal law clinic was recognized by the American Bar Association accreditation report last year as one of the best law clinical programs in the country.