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Legal help is expensive for most people. For those with lower income, it can be a huge problem.
The College of Law at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, addresses that problem with its legal clinics.
Among the longest-running clinics in the nation, UT's clinics help students learn how to practice law while providing a low-cost legal alternative for students, faculty and staff, and low-income people in Knoxville.
The College of Law's legal clinics are examples of how UT encourages students to learn more about the issue of poverty this year and reach out to those in need. Ready for the World, the campus' international and intercultural initiative, is spending this year focusing on "Our World in Need" with a particular emphasis on poverty.
Ben Barton, associate professor and director of the clinical programs, said the clinics serve an important role in the college and in the community.
"People who can't afford a lawyer come to us," said Barton, who works primarily with the advocacy clinic. "Students interview a person and appear in court with them. They take it the whole nine yards.
"Our clinics are one of the very best things about the law school. We're thrilled about them and the work we do."
The College of Law offers seven different clinics:
All of the clinics are for core credit classes. Students participate in the clinics as part of their class requirements for the College of Law. Similar to the medical school model, where residents are overseen by attending physicians, students working in the legal clinics get real-world experience while being supervised by professors.
Also, the clinics are meant to encourage students to do pro bono work, Barton said. UT offers a nonprofit pro bono program, for which Barton twice won the Outstanding Faculty Adviser award.
"From the law school's point of view, we're trying to create good lawyers, and people," Barton said. "We want to encourage them to do volunteer work or do pro bono work. Volunteering and clinics are critical for development as lawyers and people. Working with the poor broadens the students' outlook. We share a lot in common with the poor, and it opens eyes to many difficulties people in East Tennessee face."
"The students learn sympathy and empathy -- the main part being empathy," Barton said. "This is really helpful in representing them as a lawyer."
Barton said that in addition to seeing how the clinics help students hone their skills, he enjoys seeing the reaction of clients.
"I get a lot of clients sending thank-you cards and telling me how pleased they are that students went the extra mile for them," he said. "They just want to know that someone believes in them."