Our education goals seek to balance theory and reality. First, we expect students to learn a variety of "practice skills." On the other hand, we believe that in the practice of poverty law, the practitioner cannot perform adequately without a firm foundation in the theories on the nature of poverty and community, the role of the lawyer and the intersections between law, politics, economics and power. Therefore, we spend a considerable amount of time exploring these issues, both in formal seminars and discussions of cases and projects.
The traditional practice skills we teach include counseling, case planning, research, negotiation and drafting. In the field of housing and economic development, however, practice skills also include financial analysis, loan packaging, community organizing and education, cultural sensitivity and group dynamics.
Ultimately, the goal of practice is to solve problems. The problems facing our clients are legal but also economic, societal and political. We teach the skill sets along with doctrinal and more conceptual material so that students are prepared to address the issues that confront our clients.
Seminars cover three elements: theory, doctrine and skills. While a particular class might emphasize one of these elements, seminars constantly integrate all three. The staff leads fall seminars on theory, doctrine and practice skills, while students lead most spring seminars on self-generated topics that delve deeply into the clinic's mission. With faculty guidance, students develop their presentation skills in the spring seminars.
Fall Semester. The fall semester is more structured than the spring semester. It introduces students to the concepts, doctrine and basic skills associated with being a community development lawyer.
- Nature of poverty
- History of community development
- Working definition of community development
- Nature of poverty
- Nature of community
- Role of the community lawyer
- Debate over affordability vs. wealth creation
Doctrine – legal rules and applications
- Real estate
- Business associations
Skills – Simulation of a complex real estate transaction
In a multi-week simulation, students represent opposite sides of a transaction. Their job is to reach agreement and draft a contract concerning the transaction. Staff members play the role of the parties or a senior partner in the students' law firm. The exercise develops the following skills:
- Interviewing and counseling
- Case planning and management
- Financial analysis and budget planning
Student-run classes – Students lead a majority of classes after developing topics in conjunction with the teaching staff. Recent topics include: new urbanism, franchising, arts as an element of community development, problems of the concentration of poverty, workforce housing, advantages or disadvantages of home ownership, Individual Development Accounts, secondary mortgage market, predatory lending
- Return to nature of poverty, community and power
- Panel discussion of community lending
- Federal HOPE VI program with two field visits
Our teaching methods vary according to the setting – seminar, supervisory meetings or casework. The interaction among students and supervisory staff is intense, which reflects the themes that run through all of our teaching – collaboration and critical evaluation. We expect students to work an average of 25 hours per week. That time is divided among the following three components:
Seminar – 6 hrs/wk. The weekly seminar is a time for reflection and discussion about community development. While there is one seminar leader, the entire teaching staff generally participates. The methodology is discussion-oriented with a strong emphasis on critical evaluation. We ask ourselves to rethink things we have taken as givens. We challenge fixed beliefs.
Part of the seminar during selected weeks is devoted to case updates ("rounds") where students present what is new or difficult in he cases they are working on. The goals are to assist them in problem solving and extrapolate broad community development issues from each case.
Supervision meetings – 2 hrs/wk. Students work in teams under a particular supervisor. Collaboration between teams and among supervisors takes place on a regular basis. Teams typically have one case that they keep for the year, but students also are offered an opportunity to take on a second case that broadens exposure to subjects and types of clients.
Teams are required to meet with their supervisors for on a weekly basis in the beginning of the first semester, but the length of team meetings may diminish as the year moves on. Of course, the team can meet with the supervisor as much as needed or desired. Students also are required to meet individually with their supervisor each week. Again, the time this takes may diminish over time. In addition, there are frequent spontaneous meetings, so in sum, students spend a considerable amount of time with their supervisors. We take pride in the fact that the clinic's office and work area are constantly filled with students.
Case interaction. Casework makes up the bulk of how students spend their time. This constantly changing mix usually includes:
- Client interaction – 4 hrs/wk. Students interact with clients daily via telephone, face-to-face meetings with officers of client groups and regular meetings with client boards or membership.
- Collaborator interaction – 3 hrs/wk. Students also meet regularly with lenders, government officials, architects, community organizations and developers. Students lead these interactions under supervision of staff attorneys.
- Moot presentations – 1 hr/wk. Students are mooted, often several times, before meeting with clients or others.
- Research and drafting – 9 hrs/wk. Student research and drafting are vetted through several iterations of comments to be sure it is accurate and complete. While they collaborate with their supervisor, we expect students to take the leading role.
As the semester goes on, the students are more and more able to take responsibility. Before long, the student recognizes him or herself as a community lawyer doing community development.