Eighteen months ago, under Dean Jones’s leadership and with the faculty’s support, the Citizen Lawyer Program (CLP) was born. At that time the CLP was simply called the Public Service Program, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) project was the only non-clinic pro bono opportunity available at the law school, and the newly created spring break New Orleans service trip was the only major community service project organized through the auspices of the law school. Iowa law students and faculty have always been engaged in the community and very generous with their time, but in early August 2007, the CLP embarked on a mission to better focus the College’s service efforts and to expand opportunities for students to engage in the community.
Today the Citizen Lawyer Program has become a robust program devoted to providing students with pro bono service opportunities, facilitating programming aimed at personal and professional development through the Lawyers & Leaders Series, and helping individuals and law student groups to identify and organize community service opportunities. The CLP now boasts twelve pro bono programs which involve up to 70 student volunteers per semester. Through these programs, students are working on research projects with Iowa Legal Aid attorneys, helping prisoners in Iowa seek fair treatment and better outcomes, assisting pro se litigants in divorce and bankruptcy cases, and performing a variety of other law-related service, all while continuing to help victims in need through the long-running VAWA project.
The CLP also seeks to assist law students in developing important work and life skills through the Lawyers & Leaders Series. After organizing or co-sponsoring more than three dozen Lawyers & Leaders Series events, the CLP continues to provide students with diverse and practical programming. Topics covered in the Series have included addressing colleagues and clients with substance abuse problems, managing stress, resolving generational issues in the workplace, serving on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization, heeding the call to perform pro bono service, and a variety of other topics. Hundreds of students have attended one or more of the Lawyers & Leaders Series events, and a number of law student organizations have co-sponsored events with the CLP.
In addition to providing these presentations and panel discussions, the CLP has worked, often alongside law student organizations, to mobilize students to perform community service each semester. During first year student orientation for the past two years, the CLP has organized class-wide service projects. For an entire afternoon during orientation, all first year law students provided community service hours to many nonprofit organizations in the Iowa City area. In addition, the CLP has spearheaded Iowa law’s participation in the Martin Luther King, Jr., day of service for the past two years, recruiting nearly 50 law student volunteers each year. Finally, the CLP has worked with the Iowa Law Volunteerism Initiative to assist law student organizations in identifying and planning community service activities, some being one-time projects and others semester-long. Organizations benefitting from these efforts have included the Crisis Center, Miracles in Motion, Crowded Closet, Table to Table, the City of Iowa City, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and many other worthy causes.
The Citizen Lawyer Program wishes to constantly strengthen its programming in all areas, and to continue involving as many students and faculty as possible in pro bono and community service projects. In the future, the CLP will seek to expand service learning courses beyond the successful efforts seen in Professor John-Mark Stensvaag’s Evidence, Professor Mark Sidel’s Philanthropy and the Law, and Professors Boyd’s and Koontz’s Nonprofit classrooms to include other courses offered to students of all levels. Much progress has been made over the past eighteen months, and the CLP is working hard to ensure that the Program continues to improve and expand its services to students, faculty, and the Iowa community.