By Megan Davis (’14), in The Advocate, the Center for Public Interest Law Newsletter
It’s Monday, during lunchtime, and housing law and predatory lending adjunct Professor Kelli Dudley is instructing a room of law students on the finer points of motion practice in mortgage foreclosure defense. This is neither a class nor a clinic; students are here voluntarily, choosing to spend their Monday lunch hour taking notes and listening to Professor Dudley offer advice on the best (and worst) practices in defending clients facing mortgage foreclosure. The students in attendance are here as part of the Center for Public Interest Law’s (CPIL) new legal skills seminar series.
The public interest law skills series, which launched on October 8, seeks to provide students with the practical and transferrable legal skills. The first seminar focuses on foreclosure defense and spans six consecutive Monday lunch hours. Students who attend all six sessions receive a certificate of completion that they can add to their resume.
The topics discussed at each session vary from answering complaints, to dealing with opposing counsel, to conforming to the specific pleadings standards within housing law. During this seminar, Dudley walks students through the procedural steps they must follow for foreclosure complaints and even explains client issues she has encountered in her own practice. “We are lucky to have [her] lead the first session,” said CPIL Executive Director Shaye Loughlin. “She is dedicated to training attorneys to help respond to the mortgage foreclosure crisis.”
The idea for the public interest skills series came from Mike Persoon (’07), who recognized a disconnect between law school and the real world. Like many graduates, Persoon was forced to teach himself the basics of litigation work when he was hired out of law school. “I was thrown in and had to learn to swim,” he recalled of his first assignment, which was a fraud defense case in the middle of the discovery process. Persoon approached CPIL faculty director Professor Leonard Cavise and pitched the idea of a skills seminar as an integrated approach to help ease the transition from school to attorney practice.
“In these difficult economic times, students are increasingly being forced into solo or small practice where they will have to train themselves in practice skills,” said Cavise. “Law schools have traditionally not responded well to what I think is the obligation to train students to practice law.” The skills series intends to help remedy this issue by giving students an opportunity to escape the case analysis of a typical doctrinal course and build their skill sets, so they not only learn to “think like lawyers,” but to be effective advocates.
According to Persoon, CPIL’s skills series has an opportunity to help DePaul distinguish itself from other law schools that face similar struggles in preparing students to enter the legal profession. “The CPIL skills series can be a laboratory that can serve as a model for other programs,” he said, and can help make DePaul students more competitive in the inevitable employment search.
Loughlin is pleased with the student response to the first seminar in the legal skills series: nearly 60 students ranging from 1Ls to 3Ls are participating in the foreclosure defense seminar, far exceeding the anticipated turnout. “Students are clearly excited to seize this opportunity to build more transferable skills.”
One of those students is Erin Grotheer (’13), who found the session invaluable as both a civil procedure refresher for the upcoming bar exam and in light of her career track in public interest housing law. “I know that this training will make me more attractive to potential employers,” said Grotheer. “This series teaches you precisely what you’re supposed to learn in law school: how to be a lawyer.”
With positive feedback from students, the first seminar appeared successful both in expanding students’ knowledge of foreclosure practice and generating interest in the role that defense attorneys play in responding to the housing crisis. CPIL is planning future seminars and hopes to offer at least two per semester. The skills series represents a prime example of how the Center for Public Interest Law continues to support students by teaching them the “nuts and bolts” of public interest practice to help them succeed in future legal careers.