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Clinical law programs expanding

BY MAX FREUND | NOVEMBER 01, 2010 7:15 AM

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Low-income families will gain more representation with the help of the University of Iowa College of Law.

Starting in the fall of 2011. law-clinic students will be able to apply for a new law-school program focusing on representing low-income parents in child-custody cases.

“These cases are really important, they focus on family,” said John Whiston, a clinical law professor who helped to create the new program. “I think that it is a huge benefit for students to be involved in something that demanding.”

The law school will hire a visiting professor by July to help oversee the program, Whiston said.

Funding for the new program comes in part from a $120,000 grant from the Supreme Court’s Iowa Children’s Justice Initiative, an initiative that focuses on improving the legal representation of juveniles in welfare cases.

“The law school has hosted several training programs for lawyers, and the perception is that there are lawyers that do juvenile work that are not well-enough trained,” Whiston said. “It is wrong and a terrible perception, but that is the perception, so [Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus] and Iowa Initiative want to correct that.”

Law students are allowed to do clinical work, under the supervision of clinical professors, once they are halfway through law school, Whiston said.

This new clinical program joins the ranks of others like domestic violence, disability rights, and immigration already offered at the UI, and it will provide second- and third-year law students with real-world experience.

“In the classroom, you get the legal theories and all of these hypotheticals of how would you analyze this legal issue,” said third-year law student Thomas Hostetler. “I take [clinics] a lot more seriously, because it is real people.”

This ability to gain experience through clinical practice is important for all students, but John Allen, a clinical law professor, said he hopes the new program will also provide an opportunity for contemplation.

“We are centered in a law school with the mission of providing training in the law, and I think that this is a very important context to support students with an interest in doing work in juvenile courts,” he said. “But at the same time you hope it becomes an opportunity to reflect on the practice.”

And while the new program will not be available until next fall, some current students said it would be an attractive option to them.

“I think it would be a great experience,” said third-year law student Christina Humphreys. “Right now, [I] do domestic violence and criminal law, but I definitely would have put it high up on my choices.”

And while this program will be just one of many choices for law students, Whiston said, he hopes it will offer something different.

“I think that these cases are always very difficult and emotional,” he said. “I think it is a huge benefit for students to be involved in something that demanding.”


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