Elon Law students advance nonprofit initiatives through Public Law and Leadership course
Through an intensive "Public Law and Leadership" course in January, second-year Elon Law students worked with three nonprofit organizations and a government agency on a range of legal issues facing their organizations, from farmland preservation to juvenile substance abuse prevention.
Elon Law professor Faith Rivers James, who teaches the course, said it was designed to develop team leadership and practice skills among law students, offering real-world experiences with not-for-profit clients who face legislative, administrative, and regulatory legal issues.
"Engaged learning is very important to how we teach the law at Elon," said Rivers James. "These second year students actually provide solutions to nonprofit organizations, and we believe this course prepares them to assume leadership roles in the civic life of the communities where they will practice law."
Through their work with nonprofits in the course, law students researched and proposed administrative solutions to coordinate substance abuse services for juveniles in the court system, establish organizational structures for a higher education collaborative, protect nonprofit investments in substandard home repair, and preserve farmland in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
Segmented into student law firms, groups from the class developed proposals and presented them before nonprofit organization leaders. The nonprofit clients, in conjunction with the course professors, then selected which student firms offered the best proposal and presentation.
Julie Elmore, Executive Director of Piedmont Conservation Council, Inc., said she planned to encourage law students to present their findings on farmland preservation before municipal authorities later this year.
"We intend to use parts of each paper within the Guilford County farmland protection plan," Elmore said. "The students produced some really exceptional policy research. One student produced a film on the issue and another conducted international research to present policy alternatives from other countries. They really went above and beyond our expectations."
In preparation for client work, students attended overview sessions in administrative law, strategic litigation, administrative research, strategic planning, and communications.
Law student Ivy Oakley was a member of the student firm selected for best overall proposal for the City of Greensboro's University Roundtable initiative.The class also selected that team for best presentation in the class. Oakley said the opportunity to work with a public agency was valuable because it was different than traditional legal education.
"It enabled our team not only to address our client’s immediate legal issues, but also to explore beyond the legal explanations, to suggest creative solutions supporting our client’s vision," Oakley said. "It was exciting to contribute to a project that could stimulate new partnerships between the wide range of colleges and universities in Greensboro."
Law student Brittany Carter, who served on the same student firm, said the course required her to draw on different skills than she had been used to exercising in law school.
"Working to help a public agency took me beyond the casebooks and basic legal issues, and into the complex real life problems that organizations face every day," Carter said. "It was an exhilarating feeling to know that our insights and ideas could make a difference in the city. It reinforced my belief that I'm working toward the right profession for me. I know I can help people, and even if contributing in my own small way I change things for the better, that's enough for me."
City of Greensboro official Russ Clegg said that the reasoning offered by Elon Law students in support of their recommendations would help the University Roundtable select the best way to move forward.
"Elon students were able to understand our issues and the complex circumstances in which we operate, and then do the research and thinking required to craft thoughtful and creative proposals," Clegg said.
During the course, guest lectures were offered on the theme of "Leadership and Law Practice" by Carole W. Bruce, an attorney with Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP, Ellen M. Gregg, partner with Womble Carlysle Sandridge and Rice PLLC, and a member of Elon Law's advisory board, and Roland Smith, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership and visiting professor of leadership at Elon Law.
The four organizations and the legal assignments engaged by Elon Law students through the Public Law & Leadership course are summarized below:
Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships
An organization of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Center seeks to improve children's health and well-being by conducting research, gathering community input, and shaping children's health policy through collaboration with a variety of public and private sector partners. The Center invited Elon Law student assistance on a project supporting Guilford County's Reclaiming Futures Initiative, designed to craft long-term solutions for young people with substance abuse problems.
City of Greensboro – University Roundtable
The City of Greensboro convened the University Roundtable (UR) in May of 2008, composed of representatives from Greensboro’s colleges and universities, City agencies, and community and economic development groups. The UR was created to promote the role played by higher education in Greensboro and to utilize the synergy between schools and adjacent neighborhoods to ensure they are great places to live, work and play. Greensboro asked Elon Law students to research existing roundtable/consortium models, analyze the strengths and needs of Greensboro's UR from an organizational standpoint, and recommend an organizational structure for the roundtable.
Housing Greensboro, Inc.
A nonprofit organization, Housing Greensboro, Inc., assists low-income homeowners, most-often elderly or disabled individuals or single mothers, through its Major Home Repair Program, which repairs homes that have non-functioning bathrooms and kitchens, leaking roofs or unsafe floors, ceilings and foundations. Elon Law students were asked to recommend legal documents to protect nonprofit investments in substandard home repair and to establish agreements between the nonprofit and clients they serve.
Piedmont Conservation Council, Inc.
The nonprofit identified farmland protection as a top priority in its 2007-2012 Strategic Plan. Currently, the Council is producing a Guilford County Farmland Protection Plan fro consideration by regional governing authorities. Elon Law students were asked to review existing farmland protection ordinances from other jurisdictions and to identify successful policy and land use ordinances which balance land preservation policy and individual property rights.