Service projects “a breath of fresh air” to 1L civ pro students

Photo: Indiana Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey G. Slaughter, '89, with civil procedure students following their presentation at the court.

Civil procedure has always been a staple of the first-year curriculum. But while most law students sit in a classroom and learn the ins and outs of pleadings and processes, Professor Victor Quintailla’s CivPro students have begun an innovative component that puts them out into the real world, assisting real clients with real problems.

“I think Victor thought he had taught this class cognitively before, but there was an effective component to it that wasn’t there,” said Joan Middendorf, a staff member in the IU Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning who helped co-design the new program. “Students had said the course was hard to learn at times because they struggled to see the viewpoint of the people in the civil justice system.”

Enter the concept of service learning projects.

Quintanilla’s 187 1L students were split into 28 teams, charged with finding a community partner that had a problem. The students’ job through the course of the year? Find and develop a solution.

“We approached the project through human-centered design,” said Emily Kile, ’17, another co-developer of the curriculum. “We didn’t pitch anything to the students; they didn’t pitch anything to us. Their assignment was to go out into the community and meet with people who had unmet needs, then brainstorm solutions in collaboration with those community partners.”

From the creation of technology, to distributing easy-to-understand legal documents, to the development of a new restorative program centered on Title IX reforms at the Indiana University campus, the students pursued solutions to problems facing underserved members of local communities.

After teams presented their proposals at the end of the fall semester, five projects were chosen for review by a distinguished panel of scholars at the Accessing Justice Symposium, hosted by the Law School in late February. The teams received feedback, and will continue working to develop their projects into sustainable solutions that could end up living beyond their time as Indiana Law students.

“The symposium was one of the most rewarding parts of this,” Quintanilla said. “Having world-class access-to-justice researchers and community partners gathered for the students who presented their outstanding proposals was magnificent.”

Quintanilla credited the symposium’s breakout sessions with spurring even more ideas to help the five teams further their ambitions, which will continue through the fall as part of a project management course and within the Center for Law, Society, and Culture.

Students have found the service learning projects to be a welcome respite from countless hours of theory. One said the project has been “a breath of fresh air, because we’re getting to do something that matters.”

Subject to securing funding for their execution, these five projects are being developed:

  1. Creating an online form bank for unrepresented litigants in family law cases, integrating them with easy-to-use software, and making instructional videos for their use;
  2. Collaborating with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana’s pro bono office to create a web-based software platform for counsel recruited to represent indigent prisoners with meritorious medical malpractice claims;
  3. Working with IU’s Title IX office to design a restorative justice program for resolving campus sexual assaults;
  4. Partnering with the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic to extend its Project GRACE expungement help desk to Bloomington; and
  5. Launching a new student organization, Street Law, that will advise and counsel Bloomington residents on debt collection and debt management, and provide problem-based outreach for low-income high school students in southern Indiana.