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NIU College of Law will launch free legal clinic in partnership with Aurora homeless shelter

April 4, 2013
Jennifer Rosato and Anita Maddali

Jennifer Rosato and Anita Maddali

NIU’s College of Law will open a free legal clinic this fall in Aurora, focusing on legal issues that can contribute to health problems in the area’s indigent population.

NIU Law will partner with both Hesed House – a comprehensive homeless resource center in Aurora that will house the clinic – and Aunt Martha’s Health Center.

The new NIU College of Law/Hesed House Community Law Center is a legal-medical partnership clinic that will feature teams consisting of a lawyer and law students, medical professionals and social workers who together will address the legal, medical and social needs of its clients.

Aunt Martha’s Health Center will open a health facility at Hesed House this summer, adjacent to NIU’s new legal clinic.

“The issues facing homeless individuals and families are multifaceted, and increasingly demand an integrated approach,” said Anita Maddali, director of clinics and associate professor at NIU’s College of Law. “Our new clinic will focus on legal issues that may be hampering the health of clients such as inadequate or no housing, malnourishment, or lack of financial benefits, issues that are traditionally beyond the scope of medical practitioners.”

sed House logoMaddali anticipates that most of the clinic’s cases will focus on traditional poverty law issues such as housing, public benefits, special education and family law. Initially, the clinic’s legal team will consist of one attorney/clinical professor and five law students.

The clinic will open in September, but “we will spend the first few months educating our students in the nuances of opening such a clinic,” Maddali said. The clinic will begin taking clients in January 2014.

“Homeless individuals often struggle with a myriad of issues, including medical and legal ones. It is really exciting to partner with NIU College of Law faculty and students to address some of the underlying causes of homelessness,” said Ryan Dowd, executive director of Hesed House and a 2003 graduate of the NIU College of Law.

Aunt Martha's Youth Service Center logo“The addition of a new, innovative clinic in the heart of the Aurora area further reinforces NIU’s commitment to community engagement, said Jennifer Rosato, dean of the College of Law.

“Through such partnerships, the school has the opportunity to model to its law students the value of using one’s legal skills to meaningfully assist members of their community,” Rosato added. “In addition, the clinical setting provides an invaluable experiential learning opportunity that helps prepare our students to practice.”

Law students in the NIU Law legal clinic will be involved in interviewing and counseling clients, drafting legal documents, handling discovery and performing legal research. They also will focus on professional skills such as managing and organizing cases, resolving ethical dilemmas, and interacting with professionals, as well as advocating on behalf of a client.

In addition, Maddali said, “students will work in an interdisciplinary environment which will give them the opportunity to work with professionals outside of the law, as well as gain a broader understanding of how legal issues intersect with other areas.”