• Clinical Education: Social Justice in Action

    The St. Thomas Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services (IPC) is unique in that it houses graduate students in law, psychology and social work. Supervised by faculty with expertise in each of the three disciplines, students work as teams to help address client and community problems holistically.

    Since 2003, the IPC has trained hundreds of students, served more than 1,000 clients with a variety of services (legal representation, therapy, case management and psychological assessment), and engaged in public-policy reform.

    In mid-2012, the IPC will be moving from its current subterranean home on Harmon Place into newly renovated space in the University of St. Thomas’ Opus Hall, a block from the School of Law. According to law professor and IPC co-director Virgil Wiebe, “It will be nice for our work to see the light of day!” All joking aside, Wiebe said the staff looks forward to continuing the IPC’s innovative training models and to working for social justice.

    The law school’s five legal clinics, one of which was founded in the last year, are integral parts of the IPC:

    Federal Commutations Clinic

    Federal pardon and commutation practice is a virtually unknown area of the law, with only a few practitioners in the private sector. Law students petition the U.S. president on behalf of their clients for either a pardon (which negates a federal conviction) or a commutation (which can shorten a sentence). The president’s power to issue pardons and commutations is largely unfettered, and there are few rules or regulations regarding that process.

    “The pardon power of the president has been controversial and in flux for the past 35 years,” said law professor Mark Osler, who launched the clinic at the School of Law last fall. The clinic is the first of its kind in the nation.

    Bankruptcy Law Clinic

    Law students represent clients referred by the Volunteer Lawyers Network. Working under the supervision of expert bankruptcy faculty from the firm of Hinshaw and Culbertson, students assist clients in the intensive preparation and filing of petitions in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

    Financial difficulties often can cause or exacerbate emotional, psychological and relationship problems, and the IPC is exploring ways in which its social work and psychological services programs can help address those issues.

    Elder Law Practice Group

    The Elder Law Practice Group (ELPG) provides legal services for seniors with issues related to long-term care and finances. Students represent clients in the areas of long-term care rights, Medical Assistance, financial abuse and exploitation, and guardianship and conservatorship issues. The ELPG draws cases exclusively from designated referral agencies.

    Nearly all elder-law clients are served by an interprofessional team of law and social work students under the supervision of both a law and social work professor. Collaborative services play an essential role in understanding and resolving the clients’ legal cases, as well as addressing other major qualityoflife issues. Psychology students participate in many cases, providing assessments and therapy according to each client’s needs.

    Immigration Law Practice Group

    Law students represent asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries, immigrant victims of crime and human trafficking, and others facing the prospect of deportation.

    Student effort has prevented the deportation of clients back to Asia, Africa, Latin America and central Europe. Students also represent detained immigrants at their initial appearances in immigration court. Students gain invaluable courtroom experience by seeking bond reductions, examining the intersection of criminal and immigration law, and interviewing clients in detention facilities.

    Many immigration clients suffer from psychological and physical injury. They receive assistance from student psychologists and social workers at the IPC, who work in concert with student lawyers.

    Law students also have engaged in public-policy work by analyzing pending legislation and considering the ethical and moral implications of immigration law and policy.

    Community Justice Project

    Through the Community Justice Project (CJP), an award-winning civil-rights legal clinic, students work for racial justice and reconciliation. The CJP strives to build bridges with community, government and law-enforcement stakeholders to address complex issues facing communities of color.

    Students have proposed practical solutions to longstanding challenges such as police misconduct, gang database policies, and racial disparities in the criminal justice, educational and juvenile justice systems. Students have partnered with organizations ranging from the St. Paul NAACP to the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office.

    The CJP helped establish Brotherhood Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides life skills, practical skills and in-house employment opportunities to assist young African American males who have been involved in the criminal justice system or gangs, or who are at risk.

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