BYU's new Community Law Clinic to bridge local residents and institution
In Provo, UT, more than 13,000 of the city's residents are foreign-born; after white, the largest racial group in the city is Hispanic. Now, Brigham Young University Law School is celebrating the opening of a new Community Legal Clinic to help better serve these residents of the city.
The clinic was made possible thanks to a 2016 amendment to Utah’s Law Student Practice Rule by the state’s Supreme Court to allow second-year students to work with clients on a pro bono basis. Prior to the amendment, Utah’s law was one of the most restrictive laws in the nation, but with the help of advocacy efforts from BYU students and staff, second-year students are now allowed to work with clients.
Carl Hernandez III, an associate teaching professor at BYU Law School who is helping to supervise the 11 second- and third-year law students working at the clinic, said the clinic’s setup offers students necessary practical lessons, while BYU Law Dean Gordon Smith touted the clinic's collaborative nature.
“There’s a real value in the students in this case working collaboratively as a team, and connecting to real world clients. We talk a lot about the importance of valuing every human being as having infinite worth, or being a child of God, and we think we should approach each person like that,” Smith said. “[The students] have had some special training and some opportunities others may not have had, and their responsibility is to use that training and opportunity to serve.”
But for Hernandez, the son of migrant farm workers in California who spent the his childhood learning to prune a raisin grape vineyard, there's a special personal connection to the work the students are doing.
The students working the clinic, all of whom speak Spanish, will triage clinic clients, determine what paperwork they require and lack, and provide guidance on how they can properly seek Visa status adjustments, permissions and other paperwork within the confines of the law. The clinic welcomes clients from all countries, nationalities and languages and anticipates the highest demand to be from Latin American immigrants.
“One of the goals of this clinic is to bring additional resources to some of the issues that some of our marginalized communities are having,” Hernandez said. “We believe and teach that lawyers are healers. Part of that healing process goes well beyond solving a legal problem.”
The clinic opened in September of this year, and will celebrate its grand opening after in early 2018. It is housed off the school grounds, co-located with a thrift store that also acts as a community hub. Smith said the location helps them reach individuals who may be reticent to visit the campus itself. The 11 students all have individual office spaces at the clinic to ensure privacy for clients, and it is open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. each Thursday.
Hernandez said many of the clients thus far have requested assistance on immigration issues, including DACA eligibility and help in drafting petitions for visa holders to attain permanent residency status. Smith said the clinic offers students an opportunity for skills development but can also help change their trajectories of their careers, while Hernandez said the amendment to state law removed a barrier for Utah law students as they enter the workforce.
“Students are always looking at opportunities to practice ... if they’re looking at this law school, and we don’t have clinical offerings, that’s a problem,” he said. “Also, it prevents them from developing learning skills that other students are developing at other schools outside of Utah.”
“The lawyer as convener is an idea we want to continue to build upon, and that helps our institution in ways that make it more visible in the way we want it to be,” he said. “We view lawyers as leaders, as healers, and as people that can make significant contributions to the society. That will change the view of the public as it relates to the profession.”