The Legal Studies program at Ball State received an Academic Excellence Grant from President Paul W. Ferguson for $38,137 to fund an initiative. The initiative is to allow undergraduate students to provide legal services to people in the county and state starting in 2017. DN PHOTO SAMANTHA BRAMMER
Students will work on real legal cases with new clinic
Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to provide legal services to people in the county and throughout the state starting in 2017.
The legal studies program received a $38,137 Academic Excellence Grant from President Paul W. Ferguson to fund the initiative. The Access to Justice (ATJ) Clinic will be fully running by Spring/Summer 2017.
Students will be assigned legal cases to assist with and will stay with those cases until they are done, even if they continue after the students graduate. Students will have to apply to be part of the clinic.
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Brad Gideon, director of legal studies, will be working for the next couple of years to set the proper structure in place for the clinic.
“Between now and then, I will be working with community partners throughout the state to put in place effective processes for helping to deliver legal aid to underserved populations,” Gideon said in an email. “Over the three-year grant period, we hope to expand our reach across the state and to help diverse groups who need legal help, including those in domestic violence situations, the elderly, veterans and children.”
There will be a new course available for students who will work in the clinic, called Access to Justice in the Legal System. It will provide a reference point for students, showing the importance of legal system accessibility for the community.
“[It] will explore access to justice theories, analytical framework for addressing justice issues and problems, and potential solutions to these problems,” Gideon said. “This course lays the foundation for working in the clinic.”
The clinic will also provide service learning assignments to legal studies students, which will be incorporated into their courses. Gideon said these will help students better understand how to work with real clients.
“These service learning assignments provide opportunities for students to engage the community and learn how access to justice problems impact citizens of the state,” Gideon said.
The program has a number of community partners already, including Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs, which allow a volunteer to go through specialized training to become a voice for a child in the court system. CASA volunteers may investigate a case, interview witnesses and testify in court on behalf of a child.
Legal studies students are looking forward to the opportunities the grant will offer. Ross Meenagh, a junior legal studies major and president of the Legal Studies Student Association, said the clinic will give students the chance to be involved with the legal process even before going to law school.
“This will be a fantastic opportunity for students to participate in a rewarding, hands-on learning experience,” Meenagh said. “We will actually be the only [American Bar Association]-approved program to run a clinic like this. How many schools send their undergrads to testify in open court?”
While anyone can testify in open court, being able to do it still gives the students an opportunity to be exposed to the process.
Gideon wants students who will work in the clinic to gain a new perspective of their future careers. Lawyers play an important role in the community, he said.
“I hope students will come away with the understanding that they can use the knowledge and skills learned at Ball State to help improve the lives of others,” Gideon said. “I want students to appreciate the sometimes difficult situations of others and how the simple act of providing some help can make a huge impact on the community.”