Touro Law students are exposed to the workings of the court from their first days of law school in the Court Observation Program. Now, through an expansion of that program, first year students will be interacting with unrepresented litigants through the ProBono Uncontested Divorce Project. This program further integrates experiential learning into the first year curriculum and provides a hands-on learning opportunity for first year students.
“Our students have unparalleled access to the court system through our first year Court Observation program and our upper level collaborative curricular programs with the court,” said Dean Patricia Salkin. “Now our first year students benefit from interacting with and providing assistance to real litigants in need of help. This is a truly innovative program that provides hands-on experience for first year students and a service to community members in need.”
All first year students received training in cultural competency, client interviewing, and professional responsibility as well as in court software and documents for uncontested divorces. Litigants are referred to Touro Law through Nassau/Suffolk Law Services. Students participate in meetings with pro bono eligible litigants where, working in teams, they assist these litigants with the completion of forms required for an uncontested divorce in Suffolk County. Volunteer alumni attorneys supervise our students as they input the data obtained from the litigants.
“This project is helping our students understand how to navigate the legal system and interact with litigants from their earliest days of law school,” said Myra Berman, Associate Dean for Experiential Learning. “Our students are excited to be providing help to persons in need and I think there is a lot of potential to expand the program into other curricular areas into the future.”
The program is off to a great start. Students have worked with approximately 40 clients in the pilot year and plans are in place to continue the program for incoming students next year. Unrepresented litigants are happy to interact with Touro Law students and alumni attorneys, thus avoiding the lengthy wait for assistance at other pro bono agencies.
“This program complies in every way with Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s initiative to provide access to justice and provides students with probono service hours in their first year of law school. It’s an innovative program that serves the community and law students simultaneously,” said Dean Salkin.
And what do the students think of the project? Here’s what first year Saul Carbajal had to say, “I think the Uncontested Divorce Project is a great program because it offers a first-hand experience in dealing with clients for law students like myself who have no prior legal experience. Also, one feels a great sense of reward knowing that they helped a person in need of legal assistance, even if just minimal. I actually was nervous because I did not know what to expect from working with the online program to dealing with the client. Once I was there though, I realized it was not as bad as I imagined and quickly created a rapport with the client. I greatly recommend the program for future 1Ls.”